Anyone who’s done a significant amount of research on their own into various tales of the paranormal and the pseudoscientific knows that the same names come up again and again. The reason is pretty simple; just as those of us who do skeptical research leave our fingerprints over numerous blogs and articles on different topics, so do those who do, well, the “other kind” of research.
But occasionally we get surprised. This has happened to me a few times: I find one person who has done what I considered to be excellent science-based research on a topic, and I cite him as one of my experts; then, later, while working on a completely different topic, his name comes up as something of a crank. I still consider myself a newbie in a lot of these topics. I’ve only been doing it for about six years, so many names I run across are new to me but may be old hat to you.
Most recently, I was researching the Tehran 1976 UFO. While doing my due diligence and reading the Mutual UFO Network’s case file, I came upon a scathing letter written to the editors of Omni magazine who had published a debunk of the incident written by James Oberg. Oberg is an aerospace journalist and historian, and has long been one of my go-to guys for good information on space stuff. He did much of the work I’ve relied on for several episodes. I couldn’t find a copy of his Omni article, so I had to rely on this Letter to the Editors to divine its content. The letter started like this:
James Oberg’s article for UFO Update in the August issue is rhetorical prose at its worse. He has used inuendo, guilt by association, introduced facts that were not part of the original story and shown them to be false, introduced the presence of Jupiter and all but stated that it is the cause of the event while choosing to ignore radar lockons by the F-4 chasing the object. I could go on but it would serve no purpose. Those of us who have studied the Iranian case know that Oberg’s presentation of the case is distorted by his perspective.
Knowing Oberg to be both thorough and knowledgeable, I was intrigued, and more than willing to give this writer his shot. In particular I was hoping to learn something new about the case. He continued:
I was on the Enquirer’s panel that judged this case as “the most scientifically valuable UFO case reported in 1976.”
OK, the National Enquirer certainly has a specific reputation, but that doesn’t mean their panel was equally nutso. They may well have selected legitimate experts for this judging. So I read on undeterred:
We are almost in the position of an aborigine trying to deduce the operation of the internal combustion engine without being able to lift the hood of the car.
First real red flag. The writer is presuming that a superior technology was present.
…20 degree swings of the indicator on the inertial guidance system were noted along some directions of flight. If the guidance system operates with a fairly stable gyroscope, then we may be seeing distortions of the gravitational field.
Bigger red flag. We may also be seeing the telekinetic effects of Bozo the clown. And it turned out that that was not far off from his next proposed explanation:
Feeble forms of psychokinesis have been demonstrated by such people as Ingo Swann during a series of experiments at SRI. An advanced form of this laboratory demonstrated phenomena could explain the jamming of aircraft electronics and the turning off of automobile engines in other cases. The changing shape may tell us that we are not dealing with a solid object which must obey the ordinary laws of physics, but rather with a “hole” in the fabric of space. The lights associated with the UFO may be the energy price that must be paid for opening up this hole. Disappearing and reappearing is closing one hole and opening another. It is very likely that anything that effects the fabric of space must effect gravity. Einstein’s general theory of relativity showed that gravity is a distortion or curvature of space around massive objects. The inverse must also be true. The fact that objects came out of this luminous UFO suggests that this hole in space is in fact a door through which matter from another star system may enter our world. Perhaps we had better start examining the topology of a five dimensional universe.
This is the point at which I determined that the writer’s criticism of Oberg was not based on either the scientific method or on rational logic. Having limited time, I stopped reading to spend that time on more credible sources, but skipped to the signature at the bottom:
John L. Warren, PhD
Los Alamos Scientific Lab.
Los Alamos, NM 87545
A bit of a surprise, but not completely a shocker: All groups of people consist of all types of people. However, I read the name again. Warren, from Los Alamos. I went to my notes folder and shuffled around, and lo and behold, I’d referenced Warren in another episode, a couple years ago.
In 1978, a tremendous boom rocked tiny Bell Island in Newfoundland. There was even some damage to a house. Some thought it was a secret weapon test, a suspicion which seemed to be confirmed when two men from Los Alamos appeared and snooped around. Their names were Robert Freyman and John Warren. They’d seen the signature of a lightning superbolt from Vela satellite imagery, and when they heard there was ground damage, they jumped on the first plane to check it out. Lightning superbolts were one of Vela’s discoveries.
Now I should stress that I have not been able to verify whether John Warren with the lightning superbolt is the same guy as John L. Warren with the psychokinetic UFO jamming. But they were both PhD scientists working at Los Alamos at the same time, and I’m assuming they are the same person (acknowledging the possibility of error).
It’s pretty far out to criticize someone as thorough as James Oberg for not acknowledging that the space aliens might have been using psychokinesis against the Iranian pilots, or that their spaceship might have come through a hole in space from the fifth dimension. Explaining one unknown with another unknown is totally not allowed in scientific thinking. If I had read the MUFON case file before I did the Bell Island research, I might have completely dismissed Warren’s role in the episode, suspecting that he was just another nutwhack who followed the news to the town to absorb crystalline energy. But according to all the information I was able to find, Warren and Freyman were there for legitimate scientific reasons, pursuing data on lightning superbolts. I’ve no reason to suspect there was anything funky or unscientific about their visit.
For me, this served as a useful kick in the pants to remember that even the wackiest of weirdos are, for the most part, perfectly rational people. The craziest conspiracy theorists, the most delusional psychics, and zaniest advocates of fifth-dimensional psychokinesis are usually perfectly good at their jobs, honest and industrious people, and a lot of their work is good and solid. Recognition of this helps me do my work better, and opens up new realms of potential data that I might otherwise dismiss out of hand.