A reader wrote me on Facebook that he was listening to the “Paranormal Podcast”, another of the usual promoters of nonsense inexplicably allowed to remain in the Science & Medicine section of iTunes. The guest was Stanton Friedman, the principal author of the Roswell, Travis Walton, and Betty & Barney Hill UFO mythologies. Anyway, at 25 minutes into the episode (#56, but don’t bother listening as it’s only a 15 second blurb), Stanton mentioned that he “came across a piece on the Internet” the other day that got “40 flat-out false claims” about the Betty and Barney Hill story, and added with a condescending chortle that he “couldn’t believe it.” It was the online transcript of my Skeptoid episode on that story.
The Paranormal Podcast host, Jim Harold, acknowledged that he had heard of Skeptoid. Of course you have Jim, because it’s kicking your ass in iTunes, probably much to your dismay.
Stanton was probably predisposed to have a problem with me. I’ve called him “an obsessed UFO wacko”, which I think is accurate. I grew up watching Stanton Friedman; he’s on just about every TV documentary about UFOs, and of course he wrote the most significant books inventing the most popular UFO stories. I used to listen to him in awe: The TV always said “nuclear physicist” under his name, so of course, anything he said had to be true. (I didn’t know that his real career, in fact his only career since 1970, was writing UFO books. I guess the TV producers feel that calling him a nuclear physicist gives him more credibility than calling a spade a spade and saying “Obsessed UFO Wacko”.)
I browsed through the transcript looking for 40 factual errors. This is a daunting task, because there aren’t more than 20 or 25 points made that you could call factual claims. Most of them either came from or are corroborated by Stanton Friedman’s own books. The facts of the case aren’t really in question, it’s the interpretation of the facts that are. Betty Hill spent two years writing a UFO story and sharing it with her husband, and then when asked about that story under hypnosis, Barney Hill was able to rattle it off pretty much as she wrote it. I say “Duh,” Stanton Friedman cries “Proof that aliens abducted them!”
If I thought he might care (which I don’t presume to), I would love to challenge Stanton to list even just 25 of the “40 flat-out false claims” I made, keeping in mind that virtually all the statements of fact I made are corroborated by his books. Not interpretations or innuendos, but statements of facts. Not that it’s a 40 minute drive from Ashland to Portsmouth, not a 45 minute drive, but substantive errors. He argues that I distorted the facts (my “false claims”) in order to discredit his fiction. This is an easy argument to make when you have an unchallenged platform on a podcast. An intelligent opponent would point out that the significant facts are not disputed, and that it’s the interpretation of the facts that makes all the difference.
He won’t accept this challenge, of course, mainly because he’s a successful author busy with book tours and UFO conventions, and I’m just one of many farts in the breeze of reason. Reason doesn’t pay, and since he’s more concerned with his bank account than with reason, he’s right to ignore piss-ant blogs like this. But it won’t be long before The Skeptologists are on his ass, and he’ll find that condescending chortles only take him so far.
Anyone can take a mundane newspaper headline and expand it into a dramatic fictional UFO abduction tale. If it’s done well, it will be gobbled up by an uncritical public. It’s those of us who caution against the folly of pseudoscience and faith in the supernatural who have the hard job.