Return of the Saucer

Another sad example of SETI looking bad because they choose to associate themselves with CSICOPian skepticism: on the most recent SETI Institute "Are We Alone" podcast episode (titled "Saucer's Apprentice"), SETI's Seth Shostak and skeptical guest Ben Radford discussed the UFO topic with Leslie Kean, author of the recent bestseller UFOs: Generals, Pilots and Government Officials Go on the Record. And, to borrow a line from comedian Bill Bailey, "the whole scene unfolds with a tedious inevitability". Billy Cox tells how it all went down at his DeVoid blog:

It became immediately clear that Shostak (“I have an open mind”) not only wasn’t interested in evidence, he probably hadn’t bothered to read the book.

In his subsequent discussion with Radford, Shostak stated: “The other argument that’s frequently made is that scientists simply dismiss this phenomenon out of hand, that they won’t look, and this is one of the arguments in the new book by Leslie Kean … that there may be something real here and nobody will look at it …”

“Well, there’s a couple of errors right there,” Radford replied. “First of all, UFO sightings have been investigated. The claim that the U.S. government has never looked into these things is patently false. They have looked into these things …”

Whoa, time out. Kean mentioned Project Blue Book, the USAF study, in On the Record. Who claimed Uncle Sam “has never looked into these things”? Nobody. Except maybe Radford. Shostak, who didn’t bother to correct him, is a clever guy who really knows how to bait the hook. Here’s how he opened the Q&A with Radford:

“Ben, in your long career as someone who has investigated UFOs and sorted through the evidence, has there ever been a case that convinced you that aliens have visited the planet?”

Who said anything about aliens? Kean’s book dealt with an extraterrestrial hypothesis — the hypothesis that keeps SETI in business — but as she told Shostak earlier on the show, “I’m not even willing to assume that these are aliens.” On the Record deals with radar data, military reports, analysis of plant and soil damage, photo analysis, etc. Reviewing the data doesn’t amount to endorsing aliens. Shostak knows that. And yet, his tortured contortions to avoid said evidence are becoming cartoonish.

Apart from putting words in Kean's mouth, Shostak also incorrectly dismissed the 'flying saucer' phenomenon by citing a skeptical favourite:

You say a lot of them are disc-shaped, but isn’t the fact that we call them flying saucers, that we expect them to be disc-shaped, simply due to a reporter’s error back in 1947, when Kenneth Arnold...said he saw objects that moved across the sky like saucers skipping in water, he wasn’t describing the shape of course, he was describing the motion, and ever since, people have seen saucers — that strikes me as a little odd.

No, not "of course" - though many claim Arnold actually saw 'boomerangs' based on his later testimony, the initial reports tell a different story. As Martin Shough points out in his excellent article in Darklore Volume 5, "Return of the Flying Saucers" (available to download as a sample article from the Darklore website), Kenneth Arnold does seem to have initially described the shape as flat and saucer-like (though 'shovel-shaped' would be more technically accurate):

What he saw remains uncertain and controversial. But what he said he saw appears to have been described in 1947 with rather good internal consistency, and we lack significant evidence that he did not see it as he described it. And whilst the origin of the “saucers” remains complex and intriguing, we can with some confidence put those bamboozling “boomerangs” back in the box of ufological canards they came from.

And, if a picture is worth a thousand words, an accompanying diagram from his original report to the Air Force:

Kenneth Arnold Saucer Drawing

I like Seth Shostak, and I like SETI - though more for the idea than the execution. I don't understand their alliance with CSI(COP), except perhaps as a way of keeping the rabid skeptics off their back by pulling an Obi-Wan and saying "we aren't the crazy alien-seekers you're looking for..." But at some point I'm just going to have to assume they're just as close-minded as their 'skeptical' allies and give up on them, because they seem to do as much research on these topics as other 'skeptics'. That is, approximately zero.

Previously on TDG:

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Henry Baum's picture
Member since:
11 March 2010
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1 year 3 hours

That, or they're just doing their jobs, which is to be a debunking front for other types of research. Hard to believe that all that money is funneled to an organization just so they can sit around listening to silence all day. When combined with the pretzel logic of his debunking, maybe there's a method to the madness - that he's actually researching UFO's validity but part of his job description is to keep it under wraps for whatever reason.

jupiter.enteract's picture
Member since:
21 January 2005
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4 days 17 hours

There are so many problems with what Shostak and Radford were saying beyond just the craft shape issue (and hey, haven't they noticed the wide range of reported craft shapes since '47?) that one does have to wonder if they weren't willfully throwing scholarly rigor to the wind simply to win points with the academics and the skeptics.

Similarly, one also wonders if (as with Zahi Hawass in Egypt) Shostak doesn't privately hold different beliefs than his public pronouncements would seem to let on....

Redoubt's picture
Member since:
14 July 2008
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2 years 17 weeks

"I don't understand their alliance with CSI(COP), except perhaps as a way of keeping the rabid skeptics off their back by pulling an Obi-Wan and saying "we aren't the crazy alien-seekers you're looking for..."

If I had to guess at this, I would attribute it to several motivations...

1. To keep the cash flowing. Denial is the holy grail when it comes to saving face. Donors won't be so embarrassed to donate, the government won't revoke their licence to listen to the radio and the saucer-circus types don't crawl from the woodwork to follow them into every corner.

2. To confess a belief in smart ETs is an invitation to admit failure in locating and talking to them. As long as SETI is in denial, they won't have to explain why the dot-matrix printers just ink out static.

3. Fear. (Per quoted observation.) The debunking industry might as well wear black cardboard suits because no one likes to be fallen upon by that kind of mob. I have seen the mess they can make by paying close attention to a particular story or website. It ain't perty.

(Use the force, Seth! Or maybe you'd better not, heh?)

"The power of accurate observation is frequently called cynicism by those who don't have it."

Rick MG's picture
Member since:
2 May 2004
Last activity:
6 days 25 min

The worst thing about the panel is that neither Radford, Shostak, Plait, or Clancy had actually read Leslie Kean's book. Not only is it extremely disrespectful to Leslie Kean, but it's an indictment on the skeptics & how close-minded they are -- don't bother them with the facts, their minds are already made up.

~ * ~

@levitatingcat

red pill junkie's picture
Member since:
12 April 2007
Last activity:
1 day 35 min

[...]Not only is it extremely disrespectful to Leslie Kean[...]

Not to mention, the public!

Seems the only reason those characters are worth inviting at a flying saucer panel, is that they're darn good at spinning ;)

It's not the depth of the rabbit hole that bugs me...
It's all the rabbit SH*T you stumble over on your way down!!!

Red Pill Junkie
_______________
@red_pill_junkie

thefloppy1's picture
Member since:
1 May 2004
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21 hours 25 min

sckeptics on this subject are quickly becomming a joke....if they don't find something new to use to debunk then it will be very embarrassing for them soon...

"Life can be whatever you want it to be, as long as you do what your told."
LRF.

emlong's picture
Member since:
18 September 2007
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2 hours 37 min

I don't understand why SETI is still around. They remind me of those Japanese soldiers living in island caves for years because they didn't know the war was over. The evidence for ET or at any rate highly advanced life zipping around space both above us and among us down here is copious and extremely compelling and has been especially so since the advent of the internet with all the sharing of photos and stories. That is where the action is. It shouldn't be surprising either that advanced civiliztions intent on being stealthy wouldn't be using our information frequencies. They probably use scalar waves, ESP or something else to communicate. The SETi project seems as hapless as say a project to detect modern human civilizations by listening for drumbeats since the old scuttlebutt was that earthlings communicated by drum.