Tuesday, July 30, 2013

MUFON, Science and Deception, Part One

The Mutual UFO Network recently announced its latest change in executive directors. David “The Captain” MacDonald is vacating the position to be filled August 1 by Jan Harzan, a longtime member of the MUFON board of directors. Offered is a two-part post exploring recent MUFON history and circumstances, including comments provided by scientists, UFO investigators and MUFON members, both past and present.

The French Connection

Alejandro Rojas reported the MUFON leadership change in an article published July 23. The article also stated there was a “partnership” between MUFON and GEIPAN, a French organization dedicated to investigating aerial phenomena.

According to its website, GEIPAN consists of two full-time staff: a manager and an assistant. The small agency is funded by The National Center for Space Studies (CNES) and depends on external support for such resources as investigations and monitoring cases.

National Defense operates at several levels in the operation of GEIPAN,” the site states, including representatives from the French Air Force, National Gendarmerie and National Police who act as consultants and sit on steering committees. Details of the relationship between MUFON and GEIPAN are unclear, as are the nature of specific talks conducted, proposed activities and methods of measuring success.

Four Executive Directors Since 2009

James Carrion was the designated leader of MUFON from 2006 until 2009, at which time he left in a storm of turmoil. A great deal of the controversy surrounded an unsteady alliance between MUFON and Robert Bigelow of Bigelow Aerospace Advanced Space Studies. Mr. Carrion accused members of the MUFON board of directors of several questionable actions, including enabling Mr. Bigelow to move funds and act on behalf of undisclosed financial sponsors. Many of the issues raised at the time remain unexplained.

Clifford Clift briefly took control of the MUFON bridge before passing the responsibilities to Mr. MacDonald at the beginning of 2012. Mr. Clift's term was largely characterized by the complaints of disgruntled volunteers, disappointed members and a distrusting public.

Unfortunately for MacDonald, his time as executive director will likely be most remembered for ill advised sensationalizing and what many refer to as sham inquiry, or the misrepresentation of nonscientific activities as science. Prior to the 2012 MUFON Symposium, MacDonald made a series of statements in which he encouraged the public to attend in order to witness “major” and “blockbuster” announcements. He explained that the announcements involved information and material so sensitive that “proper security protocols” were required. It all turned out to be about the journals of deceased researcher Leonard Stringfield and the work of investigator Harry Drew concerning an already known story of an alleged 1953 UFO crash.

The circumstances were widely interpreted as insults to intelligence, and universally viewed as damaging to the credibility of MacDonald and MUFON. He defended his actions and denied he exaggerated the importance of the announcements, informing this writer that importance was in the eye of the beholder.

Jan Harzan
MacDonald and his organization arguably took sham inquiry to new ufology lows when the 2013 MUFON Symposium and its theme, “Science, UFOs and the Search for ET,” included a number of speakers that could be reasonably described as scientific embarrassments. Dumbfounding to even remotely discerning members of the UFO community, Harzan told the Las Vegas Sun just before the conference that science and ufology are “one in the same.”

MacDonald was emailed in preparation for this post. He was offered opportunities to comment on aspects of his position as executive director that he found most and least rewarding, as well as additional thoughts he might choose to express. He did not respond.

Executive director elect Jan Harzan is currently the MUFON Southern California assistant state director. Some are hopeful he will ring in a new era of scientific investigation, functional public relations and organizational accountability. Others, however, are much less optimistic due to such circumstances as Harzan's long standing position on the tumultuous board of directors and questionable situations originating out of MUFON Southern California. Harzan did not respond to multiple requests to answer a few questions for inclusion in this post.

Purported Scientific Study of UFOs

Robert Sheaffer
If Mr. Harzan thinks that UFOlogy as MUFON has been practicing it is 'scientific,' then he is quite mistaken,” Robert Sheaffer told The UFO Trail when asked to comment for this post. “Real science relies on facts, not conjecture, and the assumption of covert interstellar visitors is perhaps the least likely explanation for UFO reports. Google INTERSTELLAR TRAVEL PREPOSTEROUS to see my article on Bad UFOs explaining why this is true.”

Mr. Sheaffer is a writer, maintains the blog Bad UFOs and is a retired Silicon Valley data communications engineer. He was a presenter at The Amazing Meeting 2013, an annual conference for skeptics, and is well known for such activities within ufology as being a founding member of the UFO Subcommittee of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry.

The first organized scientific body in the world,” Sheaffer explained, “the Royal Society of London, took as its motto a Latin phrase that translates as 'take nobody's word for it.' That's what made them scientific: they stopped listening to stories about witches, ghosts, etc., and insisted on solid evidence. This allowed science to advance. Today we know that 'reliable eyewitness testimony' really isn't, so if all you have are stories about UFOs, instead of UFOs themselves, you really don't have anything.”

To the credit of MUFON, the keynote speaker at the 2013 MUFON Symposium, Dr. Francois Louange of IPACO, a company specializing in photo and video analysis, may very well significantly contribute to the future of ufology. Dr. Louange has indeed demonstrated a history of championing sound investigation principles and science within UFO research.

The invitation extended to Louange, however and as Sheaffer illustrated, does not exempt MUFON from warranted criticism concerning the inclusion of some scientifically reprehensible speakers. It should be noted that the circumstances not only occurred while the conference was misleadingly marketed as a fundamentally scientific event, but such incidents can be cited consistently taking place and spanning many years within an organization claiming to be dedicated to “the scientific study of UFOs for the benefit of humanity.”

Conjectures are fine,” Frank Purcell explained, “but they are not science.”

Mr. Purcell is a retired process design engineer and holds a number of science-related degrees, including a Masters of Science in Chemical Engineering and a Bachelors in Computer Science. A long time content contributor to The UFO Trail, Purcell wrote:
Generally, for something to be considered for scientific study, controlled laboratory experiments are needed, but, not always; the example of the theory of evolution comes to mind as an empirical, fact based science. And another counter-example is astrophysics. While much is known, say, of stars, we don't have the ability to experiment with them. However, for stars and for evolution, and for other non-laboratory examples, there is a body of laboratory-based knowledge that supports theories of evolution and of astrophysics, i.e., biology in the case for evolution and physics for the astrophysics case.
Turning our attention to ufology, while UFOs haven't been experimented on in laboratories what we do have are anecdotal reports, sometimes with physical evidence such as radar reports, photographs, film and even, occasionally, medical information from people interacting with UFOs. But an important distinction needs to be made if we contrast ufology with, say, evolution and astrophysics. With UFOs there is no body of laboratory based knowledge from which to draw reasonable theories. The best people can do is make conjectures.
A scientific approach is to collect data and to develop many hypotheses with the goal of the hypotheses developed to fit the data. And it cannot be stressed enough that any conclusions or even a credible theory without direct evidence or a supporting background of knowledge are premature and not to be taken very seriously in any scientific sense.”
Current Challenges

Perhaps the public is tiring of such tactics as employed at the 2013 MUFON Symposium and their popularity will subsequently decline. After all, it is only when the demand for sensationalized sham inquiry subsides that the supply will follow. The MUFON treasurer, Thomas Whitmore, who is also a member of the board of directors, was emailed twice and asked to provide figures for the symposium. The attendance, revenue generated and cost of the event were specifically requested. No replies were received from Mr. Whitmore.

Whatever the financial bottom line may have been for the 2013 symposium, Harzan will have several challenges to address, and slowing the trend of dwindling membership will certainly be among them. The organization reported some 6,000 worldwide members in 1994. More recent reports include the MUFON Orange County website, which states “over 5,000” members, the main MUFON website puts the current figure at 2,800, while MUFON Georgia says there are “about 2,500” global members.

Steve Murillo
Steve Murillo and what used to be MUFON LA recently announced they were pulling down their shutter and forming a new group, the UFO and Paranormal Research Society. Founded July 15, the upstart's Meetup page indicates over 700 members. The UFO Trail offered Mr. Murillo an opportunity to comment for this post and inquired about MUFON LA jumping the fence. He replied July 27:
Thanks for asking. The reason we split was pretty simple. My boss, the State Director for Southern California, began to meddle in the affairs of MUFON LA, and this after 12 years of autonomy where she was basically the 'invisible woman'. Recently, and for whatever reason, she decided she needed to insert herself into the day to day affairs of MUFON LA and my Field Investigators. She began sending them strange, rambling, unsolicited emails and a few even received phone calls. As a result of her uninvited communications, several of my best investigators quit. Then she had my Director of Field Investigations transferred. This guy had been with me for 10 years, and then suddenly, without consultation with me or any warning, he was moved.
After all of this, I asked Jan Harzan, who will soon be the head of MUFON (if not so already) if after he took office would she still be my boss. He said yes, and I said 'in that case, I must tender my resignation'. I had originally intended to simply disband the organization and not continue with the monthly meetings. But my Board surprised me and almost all wanted to continue on with the meetings. So, we came up with the name and intend to carry on.”
The MUFON Southern California state director, Georgeanne Cifarelli, was subsequently emailed and offered an opportunity to comment on the circumstances surrounding Mr. Murillo and his peers at former MUFON LA. Ms. Cifarelli was also encouraged to provide comment on MUFON purporting to conduct scientific investigation. She stated, among other things, that she had no knowledge of the MUFON LA situation in the following July 28 reply:
Please go to mufon.com and explore the world's largest international scientific organization composed of people seriously interested in studying and researching the phenomenon known as unidentified flying objects by combining their mutual talents, areas of expertise and investigative efforts. You may also order the Field Investigative Manual to understand MUFON'S CODE OF ETHICS.
MUFON is a fine organization due in great part of the efforts by the volunteers. Field Investigators are trained and high standards of professionalism are required by MUFON. Ufology has a long history of fragmented relationships and research efforts due to political infighting, personal attacks, perceived competition, etc. MUFON is a team and it is important that you work as a team member in meeting MUFON's three primary goals of investigation, research, and education. All state officers are held to the highest standard in protecting the reputation of the organization and all of its projects and research programs. Denigration of anyone within MUFON or other UFO organizations is not acceptable behavior. MUFON appreciates that everyone is respectful, courteous, and professional.
I have had a long run with MUFON since 1988 and have been fortunate to maintain a strong Chapter in MUFON. Everyone long involved in my Chapter is still involved. They are still here standing. I have also been fortunate to appoint experienced and skilled people to positions in Southern California that have dedication. There was only one unskilled volunteer whom I appointed in hopes they could be taught and become learned, however, that was not successful. Some positions are filled by MUFON members who although start off with good intentions, do not adequately perform the responsibilities of their position and is unfair to the vast majority of MUFON leaders and investigators who take their position seriously and work hard to fulfill responsibilities.
I have no information on Journal Subscriber, Steve Murillo, nor have any interest to know. He has not been involved with my Los Angeles County Section for quite some time now. I also am not aware of his 'peers' you wrote about. I have no clue who they might be, so I can not comment, nor do I know about this new group you speak about, although I happen to know of the other smaller organizations in California if you'd like to know how to contact them for your articles.
I am most pleased with the incoming new International Director. I am most certain he will excel. Should you come out my way perhaps I can arrange a dinner? You might want to interview our new International Director sometime in the near future.”
The state director's response was most appreciated. The UFO Trail replied July 29, supplying Ms. Cifarelli with a link to an article about MUFON LA disbanding and forming the UFO & Paranormal Research Society, in the event she should ever become inclined to acquaint herself with the circumstances. She was also informed that if she would care to act as a liaison to Director Harzan, her services would be most appreciated, as numerous attempts to obtain comment from the man, including for this post as well as circumstances concerning an appearance by Barbara Lamb at MUFON Orange County (which will be explored in Part Two), were not acknowledged by Harzan.

While The UFO Trail was most grateful for the time and attention Ms. Cifarelli invested in composing her comments, it was noted that she did not directly address the issue of MUFON purporting to conduct scientific investigation. She was subsequently asked to please provide a direct reply to how an organization claiming to be dedicated to scientific research could consistently participate in such activities as promoting the existence of ET-human hybrids as claimed by Barbara Lamb, inviting David Jacobs to present his unsubstantiated assertions and providing a venue for publishing misrepresentations contained in Filer's Files. Ms. Cifarelli did not immediately respond.

Antonio Paris
Antonio Paris is the founder and director of Aerial Phenomena Investigations (API), an organization aiming to revive ufology and bring more science to the subject. Mr. Paris recently launched a new API website and maintains a Twitter account with over 82,000 followers. According to his Amazon bio, Paris is a former US counterintelligence officer, holds a Bachelor of Science in Computer Information Systems and holds a Masters of Science in Planetary Science.

Paris is a certified MUFON STAR Team investigator and advocates cooperation between UFO organizations, researchers and the public. Among the more active figures in ufology, Paris consistently attends events and frequently conducts speaking engagements. Fresh off participating in a MUFON Maryland meeting where he discussed potential areas of improvement for MUFON, he offered the following comments for this article:
As is the case with any enterprise, organizational change is critical to survival. MUFON today, in my opinion, is struggling with an identity crisis. If MUFON hopes to remain relevant in the UFO community, I sincerely hope Mr. Jan Harzan can revive MUFON back to the organization it was decades ago.
After two years at MUFON, I quickly realized several problems that can be easily fixed by Mr. Harzan. The first and most important mission for Mr. Harzan is to ensure MUFON recalibrate its compass. After attending dozens of MUFON conferences nationally, for example, it is clear that MUFON has been inundated with topics that have nothing to do with Ufology – it is intoxicated with conspiracy theories, hoaxes, junk science, new age claptrap and a level of sensationalism that would make The National Enquirer envious. His first goal, therefore, should be to drain the swamp of all this garbage and bring the science back to the subject.
Additionally, lackluster cooperation within MUFON itself and, more importantly, with other UFO organizations has derailed cooperative investigations. UFO investigations at MUFON are compartmentalized both within the organization and outside. Recently, the Director of Investigations for MUFON directed Field Investigators not to cooperate or work on team investigations with other UFO organizations. This directive, which in essence prohibits cooperation with the UFO community, will likely derail MUFON and lead to its demise. As a former Special Agent for the Department of Defense, I can assure you that not sharing investigative data with sister agencies (that have a need to know) will derail the investigation.
Mr. Harzan, in my opinion, has the ability to revive MUFON. His dedication to MUFON, as exemplified in his years of service, clearly indicates he is committed to MUFON.”

MUFON, Science and Deception, Part Two 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Grant Cameron reports John Alexander confirmed MJ-12

Recently posted at Orlando Paranormal Examiner:

Researcher Grant Cameron published an article Friday in which he stated new evidence suggested the legendary Majestic 12 group was once a reality. In his piece titled, 'Is There a UFO Government Control Group? - New Evidence', Mr. Cameron wrote that retired Colonel John Alexander recently made statements helping confirm the previous existence of the MJ-12. 


However, Colonel Alexander apparently added that he thought the group prioritized other topics over UFOs. Cameron wrote that although Alexander's opinion of the mission of MJ-12 differed from the UFO control group interpretation, the significance of the colonel's statements could not be emphasized enough.

Others disagree and are much less enthusiastic about the situation, suggesting that if the documents were a hoax or product of state-sponsored disinformation in the first place, then Alexander's comments should be measured accordingly. Researchers such as Ryan Dube have long called the actions of the colonel into question.

In a 2010 article titled, 'John Alexander - Mr. Non-Lethal with Many Hands in Many Pots', Mr. Dube explored Alexander's career path through the military and intelligence communities, his research endeavors in both academia and private industry, and his activities in ufology. Dube's article might inspire readers to question whether intelligence officers become ufologists, ufologists become intelligence officers, or if there is at times no particular difference at all between the two job descriptions.


Dr. Michael S. Heiser took an interest in the MJ-12 documents. The Bible scholar authored a 2007 paper, 'The Majestic Documents: A Forensic Linguistic Report'


Heiser facilitated scientific forensic linguistic testing of select alleged MJ-12 documents. Tests were conducted by Dr. Carol Chaski, who, according to Heiser's paper, holds an M.A. and a Ph.D. in linguistics from Brown University.

Dr Chaski examined purported MJ-12 documents bearing signatures and compared them to unrelated yet authenticated documents composed by the same authors. Testing involved comparing patterns of speech and uses of phrases, and Chaski's methods previously achieved a success rate of 95 percent accuracy.

Full article:

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Those Mysterious Men and Their Flying Machines

Dr. Michael Heiser, who holds a Ph.D. in Hebrew Bible, recently made a couple particularly noteworthy posts at his interesting blog, UFO Religions. In what has so far been a two-part post titled, Thoughts on a New Book About Triangular UFOs, Dr. Heiser explored the David Marler book, Triangular UFOs: An Estimate of the Situation.

Part one of Heiser's post included summaries and opinions of Mr. Marler's work, as well as thoughts on a foreword for the book provided by Colonel John Alexander. While Dr. Heiser commended Mr. Marler for his research and suggested the book to those interested in UFOs, Heiser also expressed concerns about glaring omissions of relevant data and as particularly committed by Colonel Alexander. The colonel continues to suggest he is willing and able to inform us which reported craft are ours - implying some are supposedly not - and in spite of at least pretending to be virtually oblivious to the history of man-made triangle craft and the interest held in them by two of his former employers, the Department of Defense and Robert Bigelow's National Institute of Discovery Science.

Heiser pointed out many relevant circumstances commonly omitted from discussion of the reported triangles, including declassified aircraft and dirigibles dated both old and new. The controversial activities and interests of the colonel as described in posts here at The UFO Trail were also referenced and linked.

Part two further questioned how Colonel Alexander could purportedly not be aware of quite human-created triangle craft that a couple hours of Internet research easily identifies to exist. Dr. Heiser presented many documents and related photos from such sources as the US Patent Office concerning triangle craft and what might likely be reported as unidentified flying objects. The point was effectively made by Heiser that omission of such data is indeed a disservice to the UFO community, while emphasizing that such information does not necessarily provide explanations for all reports.

Just a few of the craft and circumstances presented by Dr. Heiser included:

Popular Mechanics reported on the stealth blimp in 1999

A V-shaped high altitude airship. Note the large size
of the craft as demonstrated in the photos above and below.

Modern Mechanix reported on
fascinating dirigibles, circa 1934.

The DoD's stealth worm airship can conduct surveillance
at tens of thousands of feet for days at a time

Aerial Phenomenon Investigations

Meanwhile, the Aerial Phenomenon Investigations Team, known as API, launched a new website. Dedicated to conducting investigations, research and analysis of UFOs and other aerial phenomena, the group and its director, Antonio Paris, vow to bring more science to the often misdirected and wayward field of ufology.

The new website includes a page on man-made flying objects. Below are some of the many interesting photos presented. Visitors to the site are encouraged to register, allowing them to comment, submit posts and more.


Friday, July 12, 2013

Move Over Terminator, Make Room for ATLAS

DARPA's most advanced humanoid yet, ATLAS
Defense contractors rolled out ATLAS, one of the most advanced humanoids ever built, at the DARPA Robotics Challenge conducted Thursday. The robot has two arms, two legs and stands over six-feet tall. It weighs in at 330 lbs. and has 28 hydraulically activated joints that assist in natural movement and what is termed “user-programmed behavior”.

ATLAS can walk up stairs, climb over objects and maneuver its way around obstacles. The advanced robot can withstand hits from heavy objects and is equipped with a variety of sensors that alert its human operator to environmental factors.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency reported ATLAS may increase abilities of first responders during disaster scenarios. They also reported that ATLAS is but one of the robots in its increasing arsenal.

We have dramatically raised the expectations for robotic capabilities,” said Gill Pratt, program manager for the DARPA Robotics Challenge.


Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Motivated Reasoning and Research of Alleged Alien Abduction

Science and political journalist Chris Mooney wrote an article, The Science of Why We Don't Believe Science. It was published in the May/June 2011 issue of Mother Jones.

Mr. Mooney explored a 1950's era case study undertaken by renowned Stanford psychologist Leon Festinger. The study focused upon the activities of the Seekers, a Chicago-based group whose members were convinced they were interacting with aliens.

Those familiar with the present day phenomenon known as alien abduction will not find it surprising to read that the Seekers' interests included matters of religious and existential significance. They also believed their activities, which included transcribing messages through automatic writing from their alien counterparts, were both reliable and ahead of their time, not entirely unlike assigning such beliefs to regressive hypnosis.

One such message was believed to notify the group of not only an impending apocalypse, but its exact date, December 21, 1954. Careers were abandoned and preparations were made to be rescued by a flying saucer.

When the day of reckoning came and went, Festinger and his colleagues were eager to observe how the group would respond. Following a brief period of apparent confusion, a new message arrived. The Seekers, the message indicated, had gloriously saved the entire world from ruin. Their willingness to be drawn to the light and believe in the prophecy had negated the dark contents of the prophecy. The members of the group, Festinger documented, framed the lack of occurrence – and arguable destruction of their belief systems - in a manner that strengthened their resolve to believe.

Mooney explained that the behavior of the Seekers is what is known as motivated reasoning. Preexisting beliefs and emotions can be primary factors in forming conclusions, and far more so than the introduction of facts. More studies were cited by Mooney, demonstrating how people will cling to any number of political and social belief systems even after conclusive evidence to the contrary is presented. As Mooney concluded, In other words, paradoxically, you don't lead with the facts in order to convince. You lead with the values - so as to give the facts a fighting chance.”

Cultural Beliefs

Factory owners in Bangladesh needed no convincing of Mooney's findings when they opted to shut the business down and hold special prayers to rid the site of a reported ghost. Skeptical author Benjamin Radford reported last month at Live Science that some 3,000 workers at the garment factory rioted due to what they believed was a haunted ladies restroom.

Interestingly, Mr. Radford noted, very few, if any, workers claimed to have actually seen a spirit. A woman who apparently started the chain of events did not report seeing a ghost, but said she felt sick and assumed such a ghost was responsible.

Are such unfounded cultural beliefs entirely different from some of those found in the UFO community, such as identifying short term amnesia, or “missing time”, as an indication of alleged alien abduction? Similarly, it could indeed be considered unreasonable to assume alien abduction, the perpetrators of which have yet to be so much as demonstrated to exist, typically occurs among multiple generations of a family. It would seem much more reasonable to establish a presence actually exists prior to claiming qualified to identify its preferred methods of operation. Should such a presence continue to defy identification, a valid argument could be made that alternative explanations should be considered, perhaps not altogether unlike seeking a more readily available explanation than a ghost for the Bangladeshi woman's illness.

Wanted: Abduction Researcher - No Ethics Required?

In recent weeks I have increased writing about UFO researchers and organizations that inaccurately claim to conduct scientific investigation. I subsequently participated in several discussions at a number of venues in which self-described abductees, self-described experiencers and various interested parties defended their chosen perspectives. Discussions evolved at times to some participants defending sham inquiry, or the misrepresentation of nonscientific activities as science, and as consistently committed by such individuals as David Jacobs and such organizations as the Mutual UFO Network.

I listened to many excuses made for sham inquiry, and why alleged alien abduction – and even UFOs in general – are such difficult subjects to research and investigate. I reasonably patiently entertained statements which included such claims as the definition of science is a matter of opinion. The same individual informed me that aliens use some kind of technique that somehow blocks human memory from functioning, as those familiar with abduction lore will quickly recognize as common subject matter. The individual then assured me that techniques such as regressive hypnosis implemented as a memory retrieval tool can effectively be used “side by side” with psychoanalytic techniques as developed by “Fraud and Young”. 

Somewhat similarly, another individual undertook defending the actions of David Jacobs while recommending he be consulted by those fearing they might have been abducted by aliens. “He is a doctor of history, no ethics required for that,” the person wrote, apparently implying that Jacobs was not obligated to adhere to codes practiced by medical professionals, as well as mistakenly under the impression that such a statement strengthened their argument. 

At one point an individual agreed with me that “abduction research in general and Dr. David Jacobs' research specifically fail the scientific standard.” They added that an excuse might be made that abduction is too weird to fit scientific methods of investigation. While that might or might not be effectively argued, it completely fails to address why Jacobs and others claim to follow scientific methods. One might not only ask why such false claims are made in the first place, but why excuses for them are made at all.

The enabling of sham inquiry is as much a part of the problem as is the perpetration itself. When the UFO community evolves to truly want answers – not excuses, not patronizing and not motivated reasoning – it will find them. Then and only then will it mature to seek what it has claimed it wanted all along: the truth.