Still Here After the MS UFO CON

…despite the fact that I brought my towel and electronic thumb to the Mississippi UFO Conference 2011, which I was late for. Maybe that’s it.

I was a little disappointed that it was not like a Comic-Con with vendors and tables and what-have you, but rather more of a lecture setup.

Regardless, I went. Oh the things I do for my readers. In this case, I sat through four hours of hand-waving and obfuscation.

First on my menu, having missed a “Roswell” morning, I get to hear about “Telepathic Lights,” from the ever-so-trustworthy Linda Moulton Howe, of “Earthfiles” and Coast to Coast fame.

“Telepathic lights?” Well, a more mundane reference might be the Rendlesham Forest Incident, which took place at the Bentwaters Air Force Base.

Question mark indeed

Even the powerpoint presentation can't believe this is true.

The conference organizers referred to Rendlesham as “Englands’ Roswell,” as it is supposedly one of the best documented, most compelling UFO sightings in history.

I wish this were not the case. You see, skeptics, I have a deep longing. Like Fox Mulder, I want to believe in aliens. That they’re visiting Earth, that someday I might look up in the sky and find out that we’re not alone.

However, until I get some evidence, some good solid proof, I don’t believe, no matter how much I want to. It was in this spirit that I went to the UFO Conference.

I was hopeful, and excited – some of the actual witnesses to the event were on hand Saturday to explain what they had seen, offer photographs, show some intriguing evidence, and give a coherent narrative.

Oh, wait, they didn’t do that AT ALL. Unfortunately, the quality of our “star” presentations was little better than the handfuls of “one time I saw something, I don’t know what it was, I swear it was aliens” stories that I heard from many of the conference attendees.

Of course, they had no photographs. Which is odd ,because this was taking place at a facility believed to house nuclear weapons. A facility with one of the largest air wings in the world at the time. Hundreds of soldiers were on base, on watch, in towers and on patrols. There is a farmhouse nearby.

None of these people got a picture of these lights, supposedly in the air for hours.

Instead, we got this:

yes really, this

Mrs. Rendleshams' 3rd Period Art Class provided vital clues.

That’s about as good as it got, I’m afraid. Mrs. Howe showed a lot of CGI mockups, pictures of military staff (taken by the soldiers themselves, who apparently DID have cameras), and ran down the “evidence,” most of which amounted to some statements taken after the fact, fished through to the extreme.

So, what happened? To wit, in an extremely condensed form: Two air force security officers, James Penniston and John Burroughs, saw odd lights in the Rendlesham Forest and went to investigate. Penniston claims to have touched a triangular metallic craft after examining it for twenty minutes.

Burroughs claims he saw nothing but lights. They don’t agree on the time the event took. You can get a really good run-down of the claims from the Fortean Times UK website.

Unfortunately, the account there is as garbled as the account the two presented at the event. Incredibly, this was taken by some of the conference goers as proof that something alien had, in fact, happened – what else could cause two men to give different accounts of the same event? Obviously, it was aliens!

Well, surely such a claim must have been made with more than just a couple of witnesses – otherwise it’s just as good as, well, most UFO claims.

Ah, there were radiation readings! That could certainly be something. Radiation by itself might not tie this package up, but as corroborative evidence it could be interesting.

Alas, the radiation readings (trumpeted, of course, as air-tight evidence) gathered by Deputy Base Commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Halt, were taken using a radiation meter designed to detect large, dangerous amounts of radiation, rather than amounts only slightly higher than background noise, which is what Halt discovered.

So surely the tales the men told themselves is worth something, right?

Such an extraordinary claim requires more than just “I told you!” But, what do they say?

After the event itself – not much.

But when hypnotized fifteen years later, well they remember a few things.

They don’t remember the same thing. Two men saw the same event, together, and they only remember it during hypnosis, which is a great way to be led through the rose garden.

Indeed, when they’re under hypnosis their statements sound like every other of UFO encounter.

Penniston remembers the craft. Burroughs remembers Howe’s “telepathic lights.”

Interestingly enough, Penniston touches the UFO (he claims he scribbled down the markings he saw on the craft) where he sees some strange symbols, and then – it beams binary code into his head.

Or, sort of. He remembers these ones and zeros only a few days later. He writes them down, to “fix his headache,” he claims.

Then he sits on them for more than a decade before giving these pages to Linda Moulton Howe. She has them decoded, and it turns out they’re… ASCII?

Aliens use telepathic ASCII code?

What message could it possibly tell us?

Not a damn thing, it turns out. The ASCII codes aren’t found if you check from beginning to end of the message – you’ve got to start not quite at the beginning, skip a few lines here and there, and still accept some garbled messages.

Oh, and you need to switch back and forth between 7 and 8 bit ASCII.

Seven bit ASCII was the type used in 1980, the 8 bit standard was adopted in 1986. Why would these aliens use ASCII from the future?

Because, according to Howe, Penniston, and (maybe?) Burroughs – they’re from forty thousand years in the future.

Which is only because Penniston mentioned this once under hypnosis. Or, rather, his hypnotist did. The hypnotist recommended by Howe, who has as her central hypothesis the idea that what we see as aliens are in fact time-travelers from 40 thousand years in the future.

If you’d like to see some serious cherry-picking as-we-go you can visit the Earthfiles website and get… really disappointed in the methodology of the people who believe themselves to be working on the greatest discovery of human history – contact with alien life, or, in their case – time travelers made of energy from the year 40 thousand who, for some reason, need chromosomes from the year 1980.

Although, that page is worth it simply because you get to see the process. A supremely easy task – translating a bunch of zeroes and ones into something else – becomes the extraordinary hunting and pecking of data-fishing, finding fake signals in something that is obviously nothing but noise.

So after you go through all the hand-waving justifications for doing the job badly, after you shift frames and fish for data in this noise, what do these “intrepid” researches find?

Here: Exploration og humanity (the next sequence is either 333 or escape key x3) 8100 520942532 N 13131269 W CONTINUOUS CONTINUOUS FOR PLANETARY ADVANC FNURTH COODINATE CONTINUOTUQS CEPR BEFORE BEFORE

NOTE: Spellings are as transcribed on the Earthfiles site. Note that time-traveling aliens from the year 42 thousand write a “g” instead of “f,” have crappy spelling, add a lot of nonsense words, and the “code” doesn’t even work because they’re leaving out chunks that don’t make letters – shifting the frame to turn random into a mutation of letters that makes a sort of sense.

This is only the first six pages. Penniston wrote many more, but, of course, can’t get to it now, doesn’t want to just release it (because the internet would tear it apart) and… and.. and…

Hand-waving.

I’ve never seen people reach so earnestly for the truth and then, in an instant, accept the answer they wanted to hear in the first place, without so much as a “Hm I wonder?”

Hell, I wondered if there was anything to the claim – until I saw what paltry offering was being made. The crowd mocked the skeptics – claimed we were intentionally dismissing them.

We are, I admit. I intentionally wrote this with the purpose of debunking the claim that a sighting of alien craft had been made in 1980 in the Rendlesham forest.

Because when I see everything they have to offer – and after sitting there for four hours I had heard only their best, most presentable offerings, not the hundreds of hours of lower-quality speculation and documentary-style filler – there is nothing but a claim, and some serious hunting and pecking.

For wit, Howe’s website, remember? Or were you not compelled by a series of blips on infrared and light-amplifying cameras used in time-lapse? Did a spike from a home-made EM-meter not compel you to believe in time travelers from the year 42 thousand?

Even assuming that these bits of random data mean anything (I don’t suggest doing this) – what does this have to do with UFOs, 30 years after the fact? Howe just throws out explanations – a military unit? Ghosts? Secret Agents with cloaking devices?

Never do they make a hypothesis and then try to gather data to confirm or deny it. Rather, they find a bunch of data, and then claim it supports the hypothesis.

A pile of bad evidence doesn’t equal to one bit of good evidence – and sadly, all we got at the 2011 Mississippi UFO Conference was a big pile of bad, bad evidence.

Maybe next year.

The Mississippi UFO Conference

Yes, the 2011 MS UFO Confrerence is on the way.

I’ll be there at 9 AM sharp, so if you want to meet me, then show up when the doors open.

I can’t quite make out what to think of this – I hope it’s awesome. We don’t have a booth or anything, nor would I want one. This is a great, cheap (only five dollars!) way to get steeped in some crazy.

I noticed here that the tickets come in five, ten, and fifteen dollar varieties. I may buy the fifteen dollar deluxe package and hope the extra ten bucks doesn’t go towards a probing.

One of the themes of the event is to gather information regarding the 1977 Flora UFO Sighting. (Double warning: The link takes you to the “www.ufoevidence.org” page, which has a benign pop-up. It also has reporting by my home-town newspaper, the Madison County Herald, which in 1977 was published in Canton, MS.)

They are not deterred in any way by the fact that the main participant in this sighting, Kenneth Creel, admitted that he made the thing up. Even the local news channel WAPT, which is sponsoring the event, mentioned this in their rather hilarious story.

So who’s this UFO Expert in the video? Patrick Frascogna, the guy you contact if you’ve got any questions about the event. Which is being hosted by the same newscaster that does the story.

The Master of Ceremonies will be Darren Dedo. If you’re like me, you may remember him from the old TV segments “The Unexplained,” in which various hauntings and UFO sightings were “investigated.” It aired 10 years or so ago, and pre-dates the more modern “ghost-hunter” genre.

Another case they’d like to focus on is the May 25th, 1977 sighting in Taylorsville, MS.

If that date doesn’t click for you, then the Force isn’t strong with you. May 25th, 1977 was also the same day that Star Wars was released in the United States.

It’s been suggested (though certainly not definite) that movies featuring UFOs lead to an increase in UFO sightings.

Will the Truth be out there, or just a chance to pick up some awesome T-shirts? The best gauge I’ve seen so far is the “Your Close Encounter” page.

I’ll be there with camera and laptop, skeptics. So you don’t *have* to go, but I’d love to see you there.

Now THAT Is An Investigation

Hrm, I don’t know how, exactly, I missed this one. Guess I don’t read as much FARK as I used to.

But, in Picayune, a church was having troubles with vandals in the cemetery. Not the sword-swinging visigoth type, but the traditional “kick shit over and have a good time” variety.

So, they put up a motion-activated, night-vision game camera.

They did not catch the vandals.

Instead, the camera caught an image of a naked man in the cemetery with a camera.

Later, it was discovered the said man was out photographing Orbs.

Why would he need a late-night naked photo-run in the cemetery to capture a photographic mistake?

Well, I bet he was looking for the good ole’ ghost orb.

Would-be ghostbusters, keep your pants on, and don’t cross the streams.

So THAT’S An Investigation

Hello everyone.

I’ll not be apologizing about the extended absence. We can discuss that at our next meeting.

Yes, a meeting. Time and place to be determined in true Heisenberg style.

The past week has actually had something of interest! A couple of things, actually.

First off, a couple of the JSS members were on hand at the state capitol Monday morning with a rather heavy plaque from the Freedom From Religion Foundation. It wasn’t the nicest plaque or decoration, and the media showed up two hours late, turning what might have been a media storm into little more than some comment-field rage on the local news sites.

For their credit, the spokesman for the group that placed the first decoration, a nativity scene, had this to say about the FFRF plaque:

“It’s great that we live in a country that we’re free to do that, that’s what makes our country whole is that both organizations can express their views.”

Amen Brother.

Now in more traditional skeptic news, the Mississippi Paranormal Society recently did an investigation at the Vicksburg Theatre Guild’s Parkside Playhouse.

Afterwards, they awarded the Playhouse with a little placard saying this:

The
Mississippi Paranormal Society

Herby recognizes
The Parkside Playhouse
in
Vicksburg, MS
As to Having

Paranormal Activity

This being decided after a paranormal investigation was conducted on
November 18, 2010

Whoa! Verified paranormal activity? Call the skeptics! Call the press! Call the JREF, I need a million dollars.

One must ask: What did they find?

“The investigation came up with a few personal experiences that could not be explained away as not being paranormal.

Some of the personal experiences that we had were as follows:”

1. A Couple of investigators saw a shadowy mass. (Picture 3 on bottoms of page is where it was seen.)
2. A chair in the auditorium squeaked as if someone was sitting in it.
3. One investigator felt that he was touched. He did wave it off as if it may have been something else. Still was an interesting experience that may have been paranormal.
4. An investigator caught a glimpse of something in the control booth at the back of the auditorium (could have been a trick of light from the flashlight hitting an object in the window, but then again, it could have been a figure… just not too sure.).
5. One investigator suddenly felt angry, but couldn’t understand why.”

*Facepalm*

Never mind. Call off the press. A few extremely *personal* experiences, indeed. It’s like a case file for the need for objective evidence. I like how whoever wrote this up doesn’t even really appear to believe it.

And as for number five, I think I have the same problem! My computer is haunted!

Though in a more interesting note they have a YouTube Channel with their EVPs (and the most badass ghost-hunting logo I think I’ve ever seen).

Those of you who don’t know what an EVP is – well, it’s Electronic Voice Phenomena, which is basically listening to white noise recorded by either turning up your microphone or gain. Then you hear things.

They also use the Franks Ghost Box. I’ve seen these in action before, they basically flip through AM stations randomly and quickly at a steady rate, creating – well, white noise.

Ghost hunters use these and standard white noise generators to get big swatches of static in which things are heard.

Couldn’t be auditory pareidolia could it?

To refresh you on some basic Skeptic 101, Auditory Pareidolia is when your brain creates a familiar noise out of other random noises. The wikipedia example is a classic one: You’re in the shower and you hear the phone ring. There was no phone ring (and that’s important to remember from the ghost radio example) but your brain concocted the noise out of the meaningless “static” of the sound of falling water.

The most common audio pareidolia is the old “voice in the noise,” which if you’re a person who uses headphones to listen to music in an environment where people *might* talk to you – you know this one. Your brain, keyed for voices, picks them out of the less meaningful noises – creating them whole cloth.

Backtracked satanic lyrics in rock and roll music? Same thing.

So go on and listen to the EVPs. For bonus fun, you can imagine the ghosts saying things that the ghost hunters *didn’t* record, and the magic of audio pareidolia will make it happen!

Who Quacks at the Quackwatch?

Or, quisnam planto anser sonitus procul anser vigilo? – I’m not sure that’s good Latin, don’t quote me on that. Isn’t “anser” a goose?

Stephen Barrett’s Quackwatch is an excellent place to go to find out just what sort of patent-medicine nostrums you’re being pitched. It contains useful information on shut-downs, lawsuits, cease-and-desists, and more. They were quite helpful when Robert Dowling came to town. I recall that, when Dowling found out that one of our members had put the above article into a flier-form and left a stack near the door, that he exploded, said that Barrett was being sued for libel and slander and defamation, rightfully so!

I found out that Barrett get legal threats quite a bit. It’s not an uncommon tactic; as Dr. Barrett says on his own website: “Very few people provide the type of information I do. One reason for this is the fear of being sued.”

FEAR!

And there is a lawsuit in the air, the fetid scent like a feotid spring in the estuaries of Mississippian coastlines after a spill of oil on crab-spawn tides.

Who would do such a thing? Well, it’s not Dowling. Nor any of the people he mentioned. No, the plaintiff here is the darling of the anti-vaccination movement; Doctors Data.

DD is a testing lab of questionable quality, allowing your local peddler of high quality serpent lipid extracts to utilize a fascinating technique, described in crude terms here by PZ Myers (what? You expected him to describe things otherwise?) “Do the doctory thing of drawing a little blood while wearing a white lab coat, send it off to a ‘lab’ that does a few tests and sends back a very official looking mass of data, and then the quack gazes into it and announces that you need powdered newts’ eyes, or whatever nostrum he’s peddling that day.”

Ahhhh, but you shouldn’t take my word for it. Nor the word of PZ Myers. Though, admittedly, Dr. Barrett takes a more hardline approach; but uses less “colorful” language, here.

You see, the crux of this issue is that Doctors Data uses an unscientific technique, “provoked sampling,” to see if your kiddy has mercury or lead in his or her little system.

It’s a urine sample test. These are designed to see how much of a toxic ingredient might be present in your urine. But unlike normal testings, the “provoked” method adds a little bit of a chelation agent to bind to the metals and draw them into the urine so that the test can find them. Orac explains it better, of course, while adding that peculiar blend of respect and insolence that only an unemoting box of blinking lights can command. In that particular post, Orac explains how the provocative test is, well, bogus.

And it is, but you should read his explanation of it. Or perhaps you’re looking for a somewhat different explanation, but still sufficiently scientific, then you should peruse this offering from Science-Based Medicine.

In the brilliant reply to the DD Lawsuit, Barrett says this: If you want me to consider modifying the article, please identify every sentence to which you object and explain why you believe it is not correct.

When asked to point out a factual problem, they cannot of course do so. They merely want him to shut up. They merely want this: full and complete retractions. Not corrections, not accurate representations – retractions.

And Barrett should not be forced to do that. If you’d like to help him combat this legal thuggery, then feel as though you should go and contribute to Quackwatch.

Someone Got A Picture

Well, someone out there took a picture. I sure didn’t. Even brought the fancy new camera just for that purpose, not really thinking about the fact that I’d be behind the table pointing out the fate of the Ewoks.

The Panel!

Sadly, I did not have time to get into costume.

It’s better than some pictures of me out there.

Some of us were more excited about the thing than others.

Excitement!

...though, I won't be naming any names.

Intelligent Falling and Holy Electrons

Intelligent design. It’s a nice phrase that seems like it should be talking about architecture or computer programming. But it’s creationism reduced to picking up gap-scraps from biology and saying “aha! Therefore, god did it!

And, of course, just being wrong. You can’t underestimate how often they do that in intelligent design.

If only someone had crafted a humorous metaphor, extended it, and turned it into a satirical news piece, then, why THEN I would be set.

Oh. Right. The Onion Did It.

My favorite bits: “According to the… paper published simultaneously this week in the International Journal Of Science and the adolescent magazine God’s Word For Teens!, there are many phenomena that cannot be explained by secular gravity alone…”

“”Closed-minded gravitists cannot find a way to make Einstein’s general relativity match up with the subatomic quantum world,” said Dr. Ellen Carson, a leading Intelligent Falling expert known for her work with the Kansan Youth Ministry. “They’ve been trying to do it for the better part of a century now, and despite all their empirical observation and carefully compiled data, they still don’t know how.”

“Traditional scientists admit that they cannot explain how gravitation is supposed to work,” Carson said. “What the gravity-agenda scientists need to realize is that ‘gravity waves’ and ‘gravitons’ are just secular words for ‘God can do whatever He wants.'”

And, for the close:

“”Anti-falling physicists have been theorizing for decades about the ‘electromagnetic force,’ the ‘weak nuclear force,’ the ‘strong nuclear force,’ and so-called ‘force of gravity,'” Burdett said. “And they tilt their findings toward trying to unite them into one force. But readers of the Bible have already known for millennia what this one, unified force is: His name is Jesus.”

If Kansas keeps it up, we’ll be aswim in Jesus physics for milennia to come.

But “it can’t possibly be that way in real life!” You protest – obviously you’ve never read anything by an intelligent design author.

This may not be intelligent design, but I found it unimaginably hilarious. Thanks PZ.