UFOs Debated

I mentioned last week that 'UFO skeptic' James Oberg, MSNBC's resident space analyst, had posted a dismissal of Leslie Kean's new book UFOs: Generals, Pilots and Government Officials Go on the Record (Amazon US and UK):

The body of UFO reports is replete with cases of spectacular misinterpretations, and pilots are frequently involved. So it's prudent to use caution when evaluating the testimony of pilots.

...I am not dismayed by the fact that I can't explain every case Kean mentions in her book,  Generals, Pilots and Government Officials Go on the Recordbecause experience has shown that finding the real explanation — even if it turns out to be prosaic — is often a massive effort involving as much luck as sweat. If investigators are unable to find the explanation for a particular UFO case, that doesn't constitute proof that the case is unexplainable.

...So the “not proven” assessment makes it even more important to keep our eyes and minds open — to vigorously observe, accurately perceive, and precisely relate unusual aerial perceptions. Something really new could still be discovered. Or something critically important could be masquerading, by accident or design, in a manner that leads too many people to pay too little attention.

MSNBC has today posted a response from Leslie, in which she points out Oberg's CSI(COP) affiliation (and thus lack of objectivity), and some errors in his assumptions:

Oberg says pilots may misinterpret visual phenomena when forced to make a split-second diagnosis before taking immediate action — very rare cases, I would assume — and no one would disagree with that. But, just as was the case with the solved Russian sightings I discussed earlier, this is entirely beside the point with respect to my book, because the cases presented do not involve such a scenario.

... It‘s the aggregate of cases, the accumulation of evidence and the long-running but unsuccessful attempts of qualified experts to resolve them that establishes the reality of a yet-unexplained physical phenomenon with extraordinary capabilities.

Oberg says that "if investigators are unable to find the explanation for a particular UFO case, that doesn't constitute proof that the case is unexplainable.” Fair enough. Perhaps there is some prosaic explanation still to be discovered. There‘s always that possibility, no matter how small.

But we remain in a state of ignorance concerning UFOs, leaving us with the conclusion presented in the book: We need a systematic, scientific investigation of the skies that actively looks for these mysterious and elusive objects. In the meantime, all I ask is that devout skeptics like Oberg read the entire book before raising objections that actually have no bearing on the matter at hand.

I think the point about the "systematic, scientific investigation" is a fair one - and one would think 'debunkers' seeking clarity on the matter would embrace it.

Previously on TDG:

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The Cancer Man's picture
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16 March 2010
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1 year 36 weeks

Ive been reading Keans book. It's no doubt one of the best collection of case studies ever presented. easy to read, and hard to put down. I have not finished it yet, but I still highly recommend it.

"I get a kick out of being an outsider constantly. It allows me to be creative." - Bill Hicks

jupiter.enteract's picture
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21 January 2005
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2 days 10 hours

Not sure who said it, but I agree with the comment last week to the effect that skeptics like Oberg used to complain that there weren't any high-quality witnesses to UFOs like airline pilots; but now that accounts of sightings by airline pilots are coming out, the skeptics are claiming that pilots aren't really all that reliable. Good grief...

jum1801's picture
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9 September 2010
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4 years 1 week

I grant Oberg is that increasingly rare character: a self-described "skeptic" who is not only willing to study the UFO question, but even urges such study be conducted. How refreshing, since, as a former "skeptic" myself, I have seen a truly dismaying degree of intellectual dishonesty from that side of the question which all too smugly paints itself as "rationalist".

It is simply not possible to dismiss an entire segment of sightings on the basis that the witnesses (pilots in this case) have been mistaken in the past about other things. Do tell. By the same token pilots have also been superior witnesses and reporters of what they have observed. By Mr. Oberg's reasoning are we not then justified in accepting, carte blanche, their observations?

For all his decency in admitting that study of the data is the natural response which a skeptic SHOULD have to UFO sightings, Mr. Oberg really ought to blush to try to discredit an entire class of witness by painting with such a broad brush. Still, compared to the usual "debunker" encountered in print, his intellectual honesty is refreshing. So I'll be happy to read him further.

I do not know how to account for the true deluge of sightings of aircraft which are not otherwise identifiable by the observers. Yes, doubtless many such sightings have prosaic explanations, such as mis-perception, experimental/secret aircraft, even intentional hoax.

But there are simply far too many otherwise inexplicable sightings, in which there exist no factual or rational bases on which to attack either the witnesses' credibility or perceptions, for there NOT to be something happening out there which is outside the realm of what heretofore has constituted our normal, human experience. To approach the whole question, as do many skeptics, from the starting position that UFOs simply are not possible, and thus the evidence must be resorted and contorted to permit a mundane explanation, guarantees that it will be nothing but sheer luck if there is ever a valid result from any inquiry conducted under such intellectual strictures. Blue Book was an excellent example of that method.

red pill junkie's picture
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12 April 2007
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1 hour 13 min

Authorities should keep Oberg's conclusion in mind next time a pilot informs his plane has be hijacked by terrorists. For all we know, the poor chum could be confusing chimps in rollerblades with jihadists!

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

Henry Baum's picture
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11 March 2010
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I'm not sure where you get intellectual honesty from Oberg. He mentions pilot error without ever once mentioning the word "radar." It's a lie of omission. He seems to throw in a word or two about how he's "open" to the subject, but this is just to give his criticisms greater weight. UFO "believers" do the same thing - start out saying they're skeptics, so that their eventual belief seems more sincere. It's a pretty standard tactic. Sometimes this really is sincere, but not when you're omitting so much relevant information. All in all, his take on the subject seems like the opposite of honesty.

jupiter.enteract's picture
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21 January 2005
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Good point, Henry. Agreed in full.

Robert L. Hastings's picture
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The UFO Debate: Oberg vs. Kean

What You Should Know about James Oberg’s Track Record

By Robert Hastings
www.ufohastings.com

UFO “skeptic” James Oberg is currently challenging the validity of the material found in journalist Leslie Kean’s excellent new book, “UFOs: Generals, Pilots and Government Officials Go on the Record.” Oberg is a founding member of a rather interesting organization, the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP) now renamed the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI).

Actually, CSI is a skeptical organization in name only when it comes to the subject of UFOs. For the real story, including the very interesting and generally-unpublicized past government affiliations of some of it's key members, including James Oberg, go to my website www.ufohastings.com and read my article “Reporter Duped by UFO Debunkers.”

My own research on UFO activity at nuclear weapons sites—as confirmed by declassified U.S. government documents and ex-military eyewitness testimony—will be presented at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. on September 27, 2010. At that press conference, seven ex-USAF personnel will divulge their knowledge of UFO incursions at ICBM sites and nuclear weapons depots during the Cold War era.

So, what does this have to do with Oberg and his group CSI? Well, the organization's magazine, Skeptical Inquirer, has been edited since the early 1980s by Kendrick Frazier, whose profession is listed as “Science Writer” in the publisher's statement. Not mentioned (even in Frazier's own online bio) is the fact that he worked for 20-plus years as a Public Relations Specialist at Sandia Labs, a leading U.S. government nuclear weapons laboratory.

Consequently, here is the situation: Hundreds of declassified documents clearly establish a link between UFOs and nukes, a fact confirmed by over 120 ex-military personnel interviewed by myself. And who is responsible for the content of the leading debunking magazine—whose pages routinely feature articles discrediting UFOs and those who report them? Why, a PR guy who worked for two decades for the U.S. government’s nuclear weapons program!

Hmmmmm…

Also not mentioned in Skeptical Inquirer magazine, but discussed in my article (referenced above) is the fact that James Oberg, a leading UFO debunker at CSI, was a USAF Security Officer for nukes-related information who once privately chastised another former USAF officer, Dr. Bob Jacobs, for publishing what turned out to be Top Secret information about the nukes-related Big Sur UFO case. Fortunately, Dr. Jacobs later published the key portions of Oberg's letter. All of the documented details relating to this are available at my website.

So, when someone claims that Oberg is a true UFO “skeptic” or that his baby, CSI/CSICOP, is an objective, scientifically-oriented group that has no ax to grind when it challenges those who release sensitive UFO-related information—including the highly-credible individuals presented in Leslie Kean's new book—please send them to my website to learn the facts.

BTW, Kean’s book, “UFOs: Generals, Pilots and Government Officials Go on the Record” contains the testimony of retired USAF Col. Charles Halt, who states that a UFO reportedly directed beams of light down into the nuclear weapons depot at the RAF Bentwaters airbase in England in December 1980. The book is currently #30 on the New York Times Non-Fiction Bestseller List. Let’s hope that it reaches #1 given that it should be read by everyone, skeptic and proponent alike.

jum1801's picture
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Now I recall Oberg. And I am aware of the CSI/CSICOP name shellgame. Well, drat: I was kind of hoping that I'd stumbled across a skeptic who was truly open-minded. I was hoping that, although he somehow overlooked strongly corroborative evidence such as closely similar accounts from witnesses sited elsewhere and unknown to each other, instrumentation (radar), and quantifiable physical evidence (light, heat and radiation), he was at least willing to continue looking at the evidence.

Yes, I'm sure he will look at evidence in the future. Just as I'm sure that he will somehow find that, darn, it just isn't quite up to snuff.

Disappointing.