Martin Willis: Hi, everyone. I’m with Evan Bernstein http://www.theskepticsguide.org/bios.aspx?evanbernstein from The Skeptics’ Guide To The Universe. http://www.theskepticsguide.org/ Hi you doing, Evan?
Evan Bernstein: Martin, I am fine. How are you doing?
Martin: I am doing great. I’ve had another podcast with Seth Shostak, http://www.seti.org/seti-institute/staff/seth-shostak so this is going to be – I think it’s going to be an interesting segment with us. I want to talk about your podcast, which started a long time ago. I also want to talk about skepticism, because I do think that there should be skepticism out there, for a lot of things, or, actually, we learn that way. It just depends on how far you take things, but let’s talk a little bit about your podcast, first of all.
Evan: Sure. It’s called The Skeptics’ Guide To The Universe. Our tagline is: Your Escape To Reality, and we’ve been producing The Skeptics’ Guide since May of 2005. We’ve got 390, or so, episodes in the can, and we also ran, for a little while, a companion podcast called SGU 5 by 5, http://theskepticsguide.org/archive/podcast.aspx?mid=2 5 minutes with 5 skeptics, which has been critically acclaimed, and we’ve had a great time doing it, ever since.
Martin: I can’t believe, as far as the date goes, 2005 – I don’t think I even heard of a podcast until, like, 2007, so how did you jump on so early?
Evan: We had a friend who, sort of, informed us of what was going on in the scene, and thank goodness he did, and he’s actually not necessarily a skeptic, I’d say, but in some things he is, and what it was going to be – it’s an interesting story, ’cause iTunes and podcasting all, sort of, started, like, late 2004, early 2005, is, kind of, when it really hit the scene, and, at the time, myself and Steven Novella, http://www.theskepticsguide.org/bios.aspx?stevennovella and Bob Novella, http://www.theskepticsguide.org/bios.aspx?robertnovella and Perry DeAngelis, http://www.theskepticsguide.org/bios.aspx?perrydeangelis among others, but the four of us were in a heated series of email exchanges with a lot of our friends having to do with, of all things, politics, and we’re – emails are flying around faster than we can keep up with and count. We’re talking, like, dozens and dozens and dozens of emails every day, and it, kind of, got to be monotonous. One of our friends, who were – who was in on this email chain suggested: why don’t we just get together, one night, and just record our thoughts, and, at least, maybe, once a week we can, kind of, air it all out, and get our discussions going, in that way, and then we can go back and listen to it, and it would just save a lot of time – be much more economical, in a sense, and that, sort of, was the spark, and that gave us a great idea, because we had been running an organization, which is still running, called The New England Skeptical Society, http://www.theness.com/ ever since 1996, and we were, sort of, looking for a way to get a wider exposure for our efforts in skepticism, and just being a local group you can do great stuff, but it can only go so far, so we realized: hey, well, this might be a good idea to, instead of making it into a political discussion, we turn it into a skeptical program, so the four of us got together, we crafted a format, and sat down at our computers and recorded it, and that was it, and the rest kind of took over from there.
Martin: Well, I actually listen to your podcast, and, being someone that is, I guess you would call me, a UFO enthusiast, I still enjoy, and agree with, almost everything you guys say, and –
Evan: That’s great! That’s better than quite a few other people, out there, so that’s encouraging to hear.
Martin: – but I also still believe that there is something going on with the UFO phenomenon that a lot of people just want to discount as crazy talk, so, since this show’s about UFOs, why don’t we just get started right into it? Well, first of all I want to ask you, in your opinion, what does it mean for you to be a skeptic?
Evan: What it means is that it comes down to how you evaluate claims, claims of any kind, mundane claims, extraordinary claims, and all sorts of claims in between. All claims deserve, sort of, and equal treatment in regards to plausibility, to evidence available, to being logically sound, as far as following the rules of logic that are out there, and, sort of, putting all these things together to try to get a better sense of what is probably likely to be true versus what is probably likely to be untrue, and, you know, lot of things fall on a spectrum. People in science do not like to speak in terms of absolute, right? There is no absolute 0, per se, and there’s no absolute 100% of anything. There’s a spectrum in between that range, and skepticism, sort of, follows that pattern, as well, so how do you separate the things that are liklier to be true than those that are less likely to be true? And skepticism’s, we think, is the primary tool by which people can come to good conclusions.
Martin: Well, let me just say this: if everything is relative to your position then shouldn’t you be as skeptical of your position as you are of anyone who thinks there is truth behind UFOs?
Evan: Yes, absolutely, which is why things such as verification and replication and consensus – these are all very important aspects of, not only science, but skepticism, as well. We do need to challenge our own beliefs, sometimes. We have built in biases that inform us, or, actually, can send us down the wrong path of thinking, in certain cases. It – we need – you need systems of checks and balances, and you need to bounce ideas off of other people, especially experts in certain fields. When – for, in my case, I am not a scientist. I rely on gathering information from people who are real scientists, active in the field of study, who have their sleeves rolled up, and they are in it every day they – of their lives. These are the kinds of experts that we do like to go to to gather some of our information that we need when we come to some of the conclusions that we come to, but yeah, absolutely, being skeptical of ourselves. We’re human. Everybody’s human, and just ’cause someone is a skeptic does not mean that that washes away all the foibles and problems of thought when it comes to being human. You do have to check yourself.
Martin: One of the things in one of your shows that I listened to that I totally agreed with you is when it came to the Denver UFO sighting, recently, this was in a show you did, I don’t know, maybe 3 or 4 weeks ago. You know, the first thought, okay, it most likely is a bug, but it really is up to, in my opinion, it’s up to the person that’s claiming it is a UFO to, actually, go the step further. For instance, I believe someone on your show mentioned that a triangulation of cameras actually answer that, and, from what I understand, someone was planning on doing that. I don’t know if it was ever done. I think it’s interesting. You actually take a look at these things and have, oftentimes, you do have an answer for them.
Evan: Or, at least, a suggestion as what people can do to test, and try to verify, one way or the other, what it might, actually, be going on. It’s a very important part of the process, and what we had suggested, and we weren’t alone in suggesting that, there were many other people, out there, who came to the same idea of a way that you could possibly test whether this was something unexplained or unidentified, or a bug, or some other creature, and it’s a very simple test, and you’re right. I haven’t heard that anybody’s actually gone out there and actually performed the test of triangulation between multiple cameras to try to get, you know, the – to either replicate the effect, or confirm, one way or another, what is actually going on, if they are, in fact, just bugs out there. We’ve also tapped into our history in other, similar situations in which people have caught things on camera that had the same sort of characteristics as the den – as the December 2012 Denver UFO footage that, you know, made its way – went viral, in its own right, in which it had a lot of the same features, a lot of the same commonalities, the same sort of camera distance, and hard to tell exactly what sort of ranges we’re talking about, scope and depth and background, and all of that, and there’s a tool in skepticism we like called Occam’s Razor, http://pespmc1.vub.ac.be/OCCAMRAZ.html and – which means that when there are multiple, or potentially multiple, explanations for any given phenomenon almost always the simpler – the simplest of the possible choices turns out to be the one that’s true, so, while you can’t use it as a hard and fast rule, it is a good tool of – a good tool to, sort of, guide you in the right direction, and, you know, saying that – coming up to the conclusion that these were bugs, you know, if you’re going to use Occam’s Razor that’s, kind of, where that leads you, and, yeah. No, I’m glad you found that you’re, sort of, of the same opinion of us as far as that Denver UFO.
Martin: Yes, I blogged about it, a little bit.
Martin: I do want to say, you know, the very best of the UFO cases, a lot of times it comes up to the number you hear many times over, 5%, you know, just cannot be explained with our current mainstream paradigm. What would you say about those – that 5%?
Evan: Well, okay, so you got the 5%. If you – if we do want to characterize it like that that’s fine. We can use that number, but it’s, sort of, a leap that you have to take if you’re going to say because something is unidentified, or we can’t scientifically, with hard evidence, put our fingers on what is actually going on here, it’s a leap to suggest that this might be something from – some sort of craft or being from – that has traveled, you know, who knows how far across the cosmos to come to Earth to, sort of, do these dances and tricks and shows on the – on camera footage that we pick up. It takes more than that to be able to, sort of, draw that conclusion, but I think people, sort of, have a predisposition to come to conclusions like that because we have such a great, and this is just part of being human, and, again, we are all human. Skeptics are just as human as anybody else, and they’re – and, while some people are skeptical, some things they find out they’re not so skeptical than others, and what are – the point I’m trying to make, here, is that we like to, sort of, assign our own personal thoughts, our own personal desires, what we want to be true into things that are inherently unknown. We like to make order out of chaos, in some way, and a way for our – for us to rationalize it, in our brains, is to, sort of, project something that is unknown, but, in that projection, we fill it in with something that we find desirable, and the wanting, the desire for there to be other beings out in the cosmos that are communicating or in contact with us, here on Earth, is, I think, extremely desirable. I think you’d find 99% of the people in the world, I think, would find that a very, very desirable position, so, when they don’t know what something is, they have a disposition to, sort of, project that into the unknown, and, in skepticism, we’re taught that that’s not the proper way to go about it. You need more evidence than that, and you have to – if you don’t have the evidence at hand, or the technology’s not available, well, you just, kind of, have to live with it, to a certain extent, and hope that either the technology comes along, one day, which can prove things one way or the other, or that some more evidence becomes gathered, in the future, and we can compound that with the evidence we’ve already accumulated, up to that time, and come to a better conclusion as to what might, possibly, go on. I think that’s a more responsible way of dealing with the 5% question.
Martin: Well, what’s your opinion on dark matter?
Evan: Yeah, well, okay. I’m not a physicist. My opinion on dark matter is that of the ultimate layman. Yeah, dark matter is certainly one of the great mysteries of the cosmos that cosmologists, scientists are digging hard at trying to figure out exactly what might be going on, there. It’s unknown, at the time, exactly. We can’t say, for sure, exactly what dark matter is. We know that they’re able to – scientists are able to measure it, and that it comprises, I think, from what I last read is it makes up about 23% of all the matter in the known universe. How they, exactly, arrived at that I couldn’t say, but if your listeners wanted to, just, do some double–checking, online, for that I’m they can come up with some more expert opinions that can explain how that they – how they’ve done the math to come up with that number, and there’s a lot of research currently going on with that, and, the latest of which, is – has to do with, and this was an article sent to us not too long ago, which I found fascinating, is that scientists in the laboratory, apparently, have achieved a less than 0 temperature in the Kelvin scale, which was thought to be scientifically impossible for the longest time, but, apparently, not only have they done it they’ve gotten it to about minus 1 billionth of a degree Kelvin, which, I guess, before was, sort of, technically impossible, but they’ve done experiments, and, apparently, they’ve done the replications, and other people have confirmed the math that yes, in certain circumstances, you can get below 0 Kelvin, which, a few months ago, was thought to be, sort of, maybe one of the standards of physics, that you couldn’t do it. Well, here we go. We, now, have broken through another barrier, and they’re saying that this might, actually, tie in, in some ways, to a better understanding of what dark matter is, so science is such a wonderful, wonderful tool, in that regards, in that it always – it really punctures the boundaries, and pushes forth new frontiers, and it allows us to add to our already accumulated set of knowledge that we’ve gotten, and yeah, we sometimes have to go back and, sort of, revise things, a bit, as to how we thought the universe was working under the information we had, at the time, but new information requires a new assessment of things.
Martin: One of the things that comes to mind is, you know, we’re out there exploring, and Kepler, recently, is coming up with, I think there may be, 100 billion planets in our galaxy, alone, nevermind the universe. Our solar system is fairly young. I’m sure you know that. It’s 4 billion compared to what could be much older solar systems, our there.
Martin: We’re out there exploring, now. We’re out. We’re on Mars. Why would the skeptic think that it’s not possible for some beings, from another, say, solar system, may be visiting us?
Evan: Yeah, well, I wouldn’t say not possible. I would rather phrase that as highly improbable, or high – I wouldn’t even call it implausible. I’d say just the odds are against it, ’cause there’s so much going against it from what we understand of the physical universe. We haven’t found a way, yet, to get through the whole speed of light limitation, the comic constant of the universe, so to understand the universe and the cosmos, based on those scales, we’re talking about having to travel some pretty far distances in very long amounts of time in order for what would be aliens, for lack of a better term, to come and visit us. Now, that doesn’t mean it can’t happen. It just means that there are a lot of factors going against it having, so far, happened, or may not actually happen any time in the near future, but, again, our understanding of the cosmos is imperfect, as we talked about just a little while ago, and it would be such a tremendous thing, and I don’t think skeptics say, outright, no, that it’s not possible, but just that it’s highly improbable given what we know about the universe, and based on a lot of the math that’s done.
Martin: That’s right, and, in my opinion, that’s what we know, now, but who’s to say that an advanced civilization, possibly – can you imagine our civilization if we could advance another, even, thousand years, from now?
Evan: Oh, my gosh! I wish I were around for that.
Martin: And NASA http://www.nasa.gov/ is working on something called a warp bubble that they think that is going to change everything, as far as travel. Have you heard anything about that?
Evan: No, I can’t say I’ve really followed that, at all. I think I’ve heard it suggested a couple places. I haven’t read any articles on it. I would – I can just venture, by the description of it, that it is a means of, like you said, warping time and space into some sort of – I don’t know if they’re – are they talking about wormholes, at all, in it’s –
Martin: Not in particular. Let me read, here: “The answer lies precisely in those laws of physics. Dr. White and other physicists have found loopholes in some mathematical equations, loopholes that indicate that warping the space–time fabric is, indeed, possible,” and, later on, it indicates possibly up to 10 times, or more, faster than the speed of light. We’ll put this in the show notes, a link to it, and I actually contacted someone at NASA, the person that was involved in this, and he said it’s absolutely true what they’re working on.
Evan: So, did they mention in – when you spoke to the person at NASA, sort of, what the energy requirements would be for something like that? When we talk – ’cause I know, in the past, on the show, when we’ve talked about, sort of, futuristic technologies, thing – places we would – the Star–Trek–ish sort of universe, places we would, eventually, like to be able to go, as far as what we have in our minds of what cool future technologies would hold, for us, if you were to apply them to what, sort of, what we know, today, and you take something like a transporter, for example, for anyone who listens – is familiar with Star Trek and transporting your molecules from one place to another, I’ve heard it said that it would take about as much energy as, perhaps, the entire galaxy spits out –
Martin: For something like this, yeah.
Evan: – over a course of time, so how do you go about harnessing that much? And I wonder if, yes, if there – with – in regards to the warp bubble, you come back to that, is this something that requires such large amounts of energy that we could – that it’s not in our near future to make this happen, or if it is something that they feel: well, maybe nuclear technology, somehow, would play a role in it, and they – it could be feasible in, you know, within a few generations, or something like that?
Martin: I – it mentioned something about negative energy, which I don’t know if that’s like antimatter, or exactly what, but it’s serious –
Evan: No, couldn’t – I couldn’t say. You’re right. It is all interesting. It’s all fascinating stuff. I’ll just interject, for a moment, something that many skeptics are very fond of the work of Carl Sagan, http://carlsagan.com/ not only as a scientist, but as a communicator of science, and a purveyor of skepticism and critical thinking, and he, once, wrote, or I’m sure he’s written many times, in several of his books, and given in interviews, that he would love nothing for there – nothing more to be alien visitors, ships visiting the Earth, and be making either communications, in some way, with beings, or even the phenomenon of what is known as alien abductions, you know, if that were to actually be occurring, he would be delighted, actually, if these sorts of things were actually happening, but he says he is anchored by the hard evidence and the scientific evidence, which dictates otherwise, and, in the history of UFO phenomenon, which dates a very, very long time, he says there have always been stories, anecdotes, eyewitness accounts and people’s descriptions of these sorts of things happening to them, he said, but never is there any tangible, scientific evidence that you can attach to any of these claims. He says: not – never, not one piece, in the entire history of the phenomenon, which really spans a very long time, even pre–Roswell, http://the-wanderling.com/roswell_ufo.html so – and we, as skeptics, you know, agree with that opinion, and that sort of cautiousness and caution when it comes to, again, want – the difference between wanting things to be true, yet, at the same time, being tethered to the evidence we have at hand, which suggests otherwise. I hope that makes sense.
Martin: I understand what you’re saying. You know, there’s supposed to be, now, I have never seen this documented, but somewhere between 3500 and 5000 trace landing cases, trace evidence landing cases where there was radiation, or some type of burn areas, and places like that. There’s also radar tapes of objects flying much faster than anything that our technology can offer, as well as making right–angle turns, something that a natural phenomenon, say, a fireball, or something like that, could never do. Have you ever looked into any of these things?
Evan: Well, as far as we go in our investigations we have not really delved, personally, into UFO investigations. There are others, out there, who have backgrounds that allow them and afford them to be able to pursue those kinds of investigations. I can’t say that we’ve actually, physically done an investigation into UFOs. You know, we’ve done ghosts, and we’ve done psychics, and we’ve done other topics, such as alternative medicine, and those are the sorts of things that we have done, but I know what you’re talking about, and I know what you’re eluding to. These are a lot of things that do – are described in many of the accounts. There are video tapes of them. There are things that appear on radar screens, right? That people in The Air Force, and air traffic controllers, pilots in the sky, astronauts in space, and they’ve all claimed to see – either see, or experience something that they simply can’t explain, and as a skeptic I also have to say, you know, we can’t really offer an explanation for many – for, well, some of these things right off the bat that, you know, some things are unknown, but just because something is unknown it doesn’t, again, and I go back to saying, it’s doesn’t mean that we have the luxury to go ahead and say: all right, well, then that’s an alien, or that’s something from another world that is causing this to happen. It’s too far a step to be able to take, and we need more evidence. We need corroborating evidence. We need physical evidence. We need scientific evidence that follows the rules of logic, and stands up to scientific scrutiny. As Carl Sagan used to say, again, I don’t mean to quote him so often, but he is, sort of, our – one of our go–to guys in this: extraordinary claims do require more extraordinary evidence, and that’s what we’re hoping that, one day, will come to the forefront. Carl Sagan also said that when – he believed that if there were aliens, and there were ships visiting the Earth it’s not going to be the kind of thing that gets picked up on a security camera, somewhere, or someone happens to be shooting something off in the distance, or a blip on a radar. He said: it’s going to – you’re going to know it. Like the movie Independence Day, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0116629/ right? With these 15–mile–wide ships that park themselves over all of the major cities. It’s – it would be more of, probably, more of an event, like that. It – hopefully it would be as benign as that, and if, you know, it would be unfortunate if it was something much more worse than that, you know, an invasive sort of species coming at us, but, regardless, he believed that we’ll know, without a doubt, that something extraordinary has happened. There’s not going to be whispers, suggestions, hints, anecdotes, and these sorts of things. It’s going to be ironclad, no doubt about it. Everybody in the world will be able to see it, and experience it with no filtration, whatsoever. That will be the moment, and, you know, that would be an extremely exciting thing, if that ever happened.
Martin: I agree. I am a fan of Carl Sagan’s, myself. Basically, one of his phrases, if I can paraphrase and remember it correctly: absence of evidence does not mean evidence of absence.
Evan: Yes, absolutely. Don’t know if he borrowed that from somebody else. I’ve heard it mentioned by many people, and written down in several locations, but, sure, you know, if anyone made that saying popular it was probably Carl, and, you know, that is a good thing to keep in mind. These sorts of – all the little rules of skepticism that, over time, as people get a sense for what skepticism is, and practice it more in their day to day lives, they’ll – they come to adapt these sorts of little rules of evidence, and logic that help, like I said, help them make up their minds as far as what is actually going on versus what is not going on.
Martin: One of the things that I find is one of the sightings, I think, is very interesting is, and I don’t know if your show ever looked into The Phoenix Lights. http://thephoenixlights.net/
Evan: I’m familiar with the story. Was 1997 The Phoenix Lights?
Martin: That’s right.
Martin: And, you know, there was, indeed, flares shot off, that night. There was, also, thousands of people that saw some type of craft, up to a mile wide, that – including The Governor Of Arizona, http://www.fifesymington.com/ himself, who, later, came out with it 10 years, I believe, about 10 years later. Are you also familiar with The COMETA Report? http://archive.org/details/TheCometaReport
Evan: Not that report, specifically. Go ahead and paraphrase, for me.
Martin: Okay, it’s a – well, it’s a French report that was done, and, basically, going back to Occam’s Razor, one of the hypotheses, or the strongest hypothesis, was that the very few percentage of sightings that were unexplainable were, most likely, extraterrestrial. That was what the French came up with. Now, before I just say that, and, you know, fall completely on top of that and use that, or whatever, I want to say that that is a mistake that, I think, a lot of people make with the UFO argument is to say that these are definitely extraterrestrial. I would like to say, my feeling is, I don’t know, but there’s something. There’s something there that has happened, and is happening.
Evan: No doubt. I – it’s definitely something is – you’re right. Something is happening. There’s no doubt about that. There’s not – there – I really don’t think there’s mass hallucinations going on, especially in regards to something like The Phoenix Lights, in which there have been, you know – is tons of video accounts of it. Thousands of people have come forward and explained what they saw, that night, and yeah, you’re – but you’re right, and you’re right in showing the proper amount of skepticism, there, is that in regards to that French report, that it was premature of them, perhaps, to go ahead and state something as such a hard fact without having more evidence at their disposal to back it up.
Martin: It was, basically, the conclusion that they came up with after a very hard study, and it’s a very interesting case, and it is translated in English. I want to go back. I’m going to start, in just a few minutes, with – I have, it looks like, about 5, or so, questions from listeners –
Martin: – but, before I get to that, I want to talk about the most well–known UFO incident that we can think of, and I’ll let you answer what that is.
Martin: Now, here’s the thing. I’m going to say my side of Roswell –
Martin: – and, then, I want you to say what you think about Roswell, and the biggest argument I have about Roswell, that it could be something, is I don’t believe there’s any way, on Earth, that The Army Air Force, at that time, I believe they were handling at least 1 nuclear weapon with trained military, why they would let a press release go out that said: the US Army Air Force has captured a flying disc near Roswell. That’s my first point I’d like to make. Secondly, I’d like to say that The Air Force changed their mind. Now, I understand the weather balloon, and then, later, the Mogul, http://www.cufos.org/ros4.html and the Mogul was Top Secret, and blah, blah, blah. Now, I understand all this, and there was people saying there were beings, okay? Instead of The Air Force totally denying that they came out with the crash dummy story. The crash dummies were not even used until 1952, and this is all documented. Now, a lot of people have come forth on deathbed confessions that they actually witnessed this, and – which is admissible in court, and that’s, basically, all I wanted to throw at you, about Roswell, and just hear what you had to say about all that.
Evan: It is one of the – considered one of the great American stories, shall we say, of the 20th century, and, sort of, defined what became the modern UFO movement. The culture – what I always refer to as a cultural movement that has – that occurred, since then, since the mid–40s, 1940s. Boy, everything you raised are, you know, are points of the entire, longer, part of the story that, yeah, all show, sort of, a level of incompetence, on certain levels, lack of coordination, leaks, innuendo, media, also, sort of, has a hand in this, as well, as far as their description of it. You’re right to say in that The Army, or whoever was in – whichever military service was in, sort of, in charge of it, at the time, that they allowed certain things to get printed in the press that they clearly wanted to backtrack on, or never meant to leak out there. Yeah, all these things did happen. Don’t know about the crash test dummy, as far as, you know, I know that, like you said, what was it? 1952 is when they, sort –
Martin: – they first used them, yes.
Evan: Yeah, I mean, is it at all possible, and I don’t know that much about the dummy part of the story, is that they may have had something else before something was actually, officially designated as, sort of, a crash dummy as scarecrow, or something else, right? That had no, perhaps, official designation, but was a precursor to the – to what we know as the crash dummy. It – perhaps it was something along those lines. Now, that’s speculation on my part. I have to point out – I’m just thinking aloud as to what other possible things there could be, and people’s – as far as deathbed confessions and people speaking once they, sort of, felt they were disconnected enough from the events of the time, we have lots of evidence, from other instances in history, in which people’s recollections of things turn out not to be, sometimes, even close to what actually occurred, and an example I’ll use is the JFK assassination, which was really also one of the most seminal moments, and unfortunate moments, of the 20th century, and Gerald Posner, who we’ve interviewed on our show, before, and who has written a book called Case Closed, and he make – back in the 19 – mid–1990s, and he, sort of, made the argument, or helped solidify the argument, that the assassination of JFK was done by, yes, a lone shooter. He backed it up with a lot of hard evidence, a lot of scientific evaluation, a lot of testing, and research was done, and those were the – and that’s what he was left with once he did his many, many years of research into the topic. All that was left, all the conspiracies fell apart, all of them. Now, how this relates to Roswell is this: the day of the assassination newscast crews were out and about in abundance, and they were interviewing people, and there is footage of people being interviewed – dozens and dozens of people. What they did, or what somebody did back in – this was 1963. In the 1970s there were reporters and other people who went back to those eyewitnesses. I mean, your eye – you’re there at the moment something so huge has happened, right, that it’s, you know, it’s one of the touchstones of American history. You were there. Of course you’re going to remember everything about that, because that is burned into your brain. There’s no way you could possibly get it wrong. Well, guess what? 10 years later they go back and they interview these people, and they ask them to recount, for them, their thoughts and their remembrance and their memories of the day, and the details, and a lot of them, a lot of them got it absolutely wrong. They couldn’t remember, 10 years later, what they had told reporters, at the time, in 1963. Their stories had changed, entirely, and that was one of the most seminal moments, and only over a 10–year period, so you take that, and you contrast it to the folks who were working on Project Mogul, or at Area 51, http://www.ufomind.com/area51/ at the time, and they were under hush–hush secrecy, and it was all a very, very, for a time, Cold War tensions were starting to rise, and all of this, the nuclear arms race, atomic age, all of that that you – these folks are 40–years–later–removed from that, 30 or 40 years later on their deathbed confessions. I mean, I don’t – I can’t say how reliable what those people are saying is going to be 30 years after the fact of, kind of, some things they may or may not have saw in the buildings, at the time. What we – Roswell, today, like I had mentioned, earlier, has this cultural – is culturally saturated in, certainly, American culture, and, arguably, cultures of the world with the UFO phenomenon being what it is, and it took a long – it took time for that, sort of, to become that way, and, as the myths of Roswell have grown and grown and grown, we haven’t really – there’s a wonderment to it all, a fascination of this – of the whole story in which we want – we really want there to have been ships. We really want there to have been bodies. We wanted it to be more than just weather balloon – satellites, or, I’m sorry, balloons carrying Top Secret equipment, at the time, for weather evaluation, and so forth, that I – that I’m not surprised that, 30 or 40 years later, these people who have been able to, sort of, become part of the saturated culture of what the UFO phenomenon is are going back, and then, in that mode, saying: well, yeah, you know, there were bodies, there, and I wasn’t supposed to talk about it, at the time, but I’m free to do so, now, and here are my recollections. I have a hard time taking that as any kind of real reliable evidence, so those are my general thoughts about Roswell.
Martin: Just getting back to the first question, or the first point I made, why would you suppose The Army Air Force would call – would say that they captured a flying disc?
Evan: For lack of, perhaps, a way – a better way of describing it. The disc and the Kenneth Arnold Incident, http://ufoevidence.org/cases/case511.htm in which newspapers had recently described what was a flying saucer in the Pacific northwest part of the country, so I couldn’t say as to what their mindset was, at the time, and why they did it. I think, may – perhaps just for lack of a better term, or a better descriptor at the time, and it was, most likely, something that was – it seemed very innocuous, at the time, and, you know, you say things, and you don’t realize, later, what kind of impact it has once it goes out over – once the media has a chance to amplify it, and, sort of, you know, hype it in a certain way that makes it sound, perhaps, a lot more fantastic than they ever, initially, intended it to be. I am sure that they wanted to downplay it as much as they possibly could be, given the nature of the time, and the business they were doing, and it’s – it just got away from them. The genie, sort of, escaped the bottle, at that moment.
Martin: Okay, well, fair enough, on that. I have some listener questions, and I’ll start right off the bat. What are your thoughts on the ridicule factor associated with the UFO phenomenon in relation to the mass media coverage?
Evan: That’s an interesting question. It’s an interesting way of seeing it. I suppose, from the view of someone who does believe that these unidentified objects are, in fact, of an alien, extraterrestrial nature, would see it that the media takes the position that they are ridiculing them for their beliefs, whereas, I think, those of us on the skeptical side of this coin see it as the media is complicit in the perpetuation of the belief in extraterrestrial existence, so –
Martin: I agree with some cases, certainly.
Martin: I’ve also seen the media ridicule. Say there’s 2 reporters talking among themselves, you know, about it and how ridiculous it is. I’ve seen that, as well –
Martin: – and I think that may be, kind of, what the listener is trying to ask, but I’m not sure.
Evan: Well, I – look, on the – in – on a certain level it’s unprofessional, in my opinion. It’s also – it – I don’t – to what end do these stories, the news coverage of UFOs, what sort of purpose does it serve? I think that question needs to be asked, as well, and if the – if their purpose is to ridicule people for what they are just trying to make sense of the unknown, well, then I think the media is at fault, there, and they really shouldn’t be doing that. That is not their job. That’s not journalism. That’s not research. That’s not investigation, so I don’t think it really has any place in journalism. Now, I must say, that we, ourselves, who are, arguably, a form of media, in our own right, and we have been known to be lighthearted, and sometimes ridiculing when it comes to certain things that people have claimed. David Icke. http://www.davidicke.com/ Am I pronouncing his last name right? David Icke –
Martin: That’s right. That’s how he pronounces it.
Evan: – and his – some of the things that he has brought forth, I mean, look, and I’ll quote another skeptic of some note, James The – The Amazing James Randi, who is a professional magician, and, also, a professional skeptic, and debunker of many frauds and scams and con artists, out there. He once said that some notions are just too childish to merit kindness, and I agree with him to a certain degree, in that, when you have such extreme cases of lack of evidence, and just really fantasy–prone personalities, if I might say that David Icke, I think, falls under, I mean really. How serious do you expect people to take the likes of David Icke and some of the incredible stories and claims that he has pushed out there, on people? And I think that the heavier you’re going to lay on the – lay on that kind of sauce on people, yeah, you deserve some ridicule, I think, and you deserve some really sharp critique for that sort of, what I would consider, irresponsible behavior, so, like everything else, it falls on a spectrum, but, in a general sense, the journalism – the media needs to do a better job of restraining themselves from that sort of behavior. It just doesn’t serve any purpose.
Martin: Okay, I agree, basically. You know, I think the bottom line is there are fringe people, out there, when it comes to UFOs, and – but there’s also people, like me, that are just looking for an answer.
Evan: Yes. Oh, absolutely. Absolutely, and that’s an important distinction, I think, and we do try hard not to ridicule individuals for their individual beliefs, and we feel very strongly, we’ve always felt this way, even before the podcast, sort of, when we got together and decided to make a local skeptics group, is that this – one of our main points was going to be: we’re not going to put people down, individually, for the things that they believe whether it comes to religious beliefs, pseudoscientific beliefs, and so forth, because you – it serves no purpose to do so. If what we’re trying to do is, really, make people aware that there are different ways of looking at things in the universe, and helping people come to, perhaps, some different conclusions than what they’re predisposed to you’re not going to be able to do that if, at the same time, you’re going: oh, yeah. That person thinks that that’s an alien. Boy, how stupid is he? Yeah, boy, he’s really dumb. He’s not using his brain. That gets you absolutely nowhere, in my opinion. You can’t – you really cannot have that kind of attitude when it comes to this. It – and it, frankly, it makes yourself – if I were to adopt an attitude like that it would make a lot of the things I – lot of my opinions, I think, less valid, in a certain sense. Those sort of ad hominem attacks, they really don’t have a place. We try to be very selective as to the – as to when we do, sort of, go off on certain people for just being SO out there, and especially when they’re trying to do it in a – and it’s one thing for an individual to have a belief in something, and try to search for some answers, and that’s very, very understandable. It’s another thing when someone comes up with things that are so ridiculous, and they are trying to, absolutely, push that belief with absolutely no evidence, or no logic, or nothing going for them, and trying to, sort of, manipulate people who are looking for some legitimate answers to thing, and trying to bring them into their way of thinking by peddling a bunch of crap, on them, yeah, those people deserve some more harsh treatment.
Martin: Sounds like most religions, but I’m not going to get into that.
Evan: We won’t go there.
Martin: Okay, here’s the next question. Is there any case, and/or phenomenon, that you find the most interesting, and one that has challenged your skeptical approach?
Evan: Oh, that’s a really, really good question. I’ll tell you this. I’ll answer this as best as I can. I was not always a skeptic. I was always a great admirer of science, a great admirer of science fiction, and a great admirer of what is otherwise classified as pseudoscience. I thought, for the first 26 years of my life, why not? Why? There’s no – I can’t see any reason why there couldn’t be ghostly activity in old, haunted houses. I couldn’t see any reason why there couldn’t be UFOs in the sky. I couldn’t find any reason why it’s – psychics’ abilities to talk to the deceased couldn’t possibly happen. All that – all of it was fair game. At the same time, I never abandoned my understanding of science, and I, like I said, I still had a great affinity for it, and understood how it worked, and – but I thought I could have it all, in a sense, have it all until I, sort of, stumbled upon skepticism through some of my friends, and I had to, sort of, take a good, hard look at, one by one, at a lot of the things I had thought, in the past, and, you know, I applied some skepticism to it, and, it turns out, they just fell by the wayside, for me, in – and I – this may be disconcerting to some of your listeners, or disheartening, in a certain sense, but, after a while, I wasn’t left with anything left, as far as a paranormal belief left that I could really hold onto as being possible. I, eventually, sort of, shed it all, and left it all behind, and, sort of, realized, for myself, exactly what it was, so, as of today, I’ve got nothing, as far as being able to say that, well, I’m skeptical about just about everything, but this one thing I, just, I can’t be entirely skeptical of it, or I am, really, in some way, clinging onto it. I’ve, really, sort of, shed it all.
Evan: That’s just me.
Martin: That’s a fair answer. Number 3: what are your thoughts when mass sightings occur, such as Phoenix Lights, Rendlesham Forest, http://www.therendleshamforestincident.com/ Hudson Valley Sightings, http://www.ufoevidence.org/topics/hudsonvalley.htm etc.?
Evan: Well –
Martin: We, sort of, covered that, earlier, didn’t we?
Evan: Yeah, we did. I’ll throw in something, though, here, a little different, that we didn’t cover, and it’s the, well, The Hudson Lights. Are we talking 1985?
Martin: 1986, I think, that was.
Evan: 1986, okay, what –
Martin: Oh, but you may be right. I think it was actually – I think it was repeated, I believe.
Evan: There may have been copycats out there, sort of, doing what has happened, and I really wish I’d kept a diary, at the time, because, and this is funny, because, before I knew the Novellas, the other folks I do The Skeptics’ Guide To The Universe with, this was, really, 7 years before I had met them, we each, in our different parts of the state, one night, saw the exact same thing in the sky, in which it was a perfect sort of formation of lights that were just going about their own business in the sky, and it was too perfect a formation. Now, I’m not sure if these are the actual Hudson ones, or something that happened similar just around that same time, and some folks were trying to do it, sort of, as a copycat based on the news reports of The Hudson Lights. I can’t recall, exactly, but, in any case, we both, each in our own, remember seeing it that night, and each of us were dumbfounded. We didn’t know what the heck was going on, and, for a long time, we didn’t figure it out until some people, basically, confessed that they were part of it, a formation of certain kinds of planes that, you know, ran their lights in a – lined themselves in a certain pattern so that their lights would appear to be something that was, perhaps, maybe larger than it actually seems, and they flew in that perfect formation, so mass sightings, yeah, those are what – how can so many eyes be wrong, right? So many people saw these things. How could all those people be wrong? Well, you know what? In cases, lot of people can be wrong, and misinterpret the same thing, and, again, they’re just trying to make order out of chaos. That’s how our brains work. For it’s an evolutionary trait. It’s an evolutionary advantage of our species. It helped keep us alive when we were just a billion years ago on the sub–Sahara, and wondering if the rattling in the bushes was, you know, a flock of birds, or a lion get ready to, kind of, jump out and eat us, and we, sort of, had to fill in the blank for our own survival, and, sort of, run away from those noises, as a rough example of, kind of, what I’m getting at, here, and I – mass sightings, yeah, those are tough to convince people that something may not be as grand or fantastic as, perhaps, they saw, because, hey, they saw it with their own eyes, and my cousin saw it with his own eyes, and my dad saw it with his own eyes. How could so many people be wrong? Well, you know, people can be wrong in masses.
Martin: Okay, so, just for the record, I heard you say that you saw a UFO. Okay, next.
Evan: Yes! I could not identify those flying objects for the life of me.
Martin: Yep. Okay, now this is a long question. A lot of people interested in UFOs focus on trying to discover what’s behind the mystery, but skeptics seem to be focused on demeaning people’s efforts and beliefs. Why would someone put their energy into that without, first, doing the legwork to see if there might actually be truth to the phenomenon? It’s as much a matter of belief, to them, as anyone else.
Evan: Well, we touched about – on this, a little bit, earlier. Demeaning – yes, you know, skeptics should not be demeaning in their criticism in what should be a constructive criticism of the evidence, or claims put forth by the proponents of, you know, alien visitations and UFOs and these sorts of things, so – but to – you can’t really paint a broad stroke with that brush. You can’t call all skeptics demeaning. Some of us are very conscious about that. Now, there are others, yeah, there are other jerks, out there, that, you know, they claim to be skeptics, or they have, you know, they’re –
Martin: – or they’re called pseudoskeptics, wouldn’t you call?
Evan: Right. Yeah, I probably would do that. They’re not – they’re more of a – what do we call that? We call that an a priori skeptic, in which, you know, just – you’re just being ridiculous. None of this is even possible. Why are we even arguing about this stuff? You know, just, you should just be skeptical about it, and just move on with things, and, you know, poo poo on you. That’s not a very good approach, as far as I’m concerned. That’s certainly not that attitude that we’ve adopted at The New England Skeptical Society, or The Skeptics’ Guide To The Universe. The second part of that question, sort of, had to do with the legwork. Why don’t they do the legwork to go out there and actually try to figure out, for themselves, what’s going on? Well, I’ll answer that by saying we do that. We do that. We have organizations. We have The Committee For Scientific Investigation Of Claims Of The Paranormal, CSICOP, which is now CSI, The Committee For Scientific Inquiry, Committee For Skeptical Inquiry, http://www.skepticalinvestigations.org/Observeskeptics/CSICOP/30yearswar1.html and other organizations just like that. They are out there. They are scientists. They are trained professionals. They are investigators. They’ve written books. They’ve been on the investigations. I mean, Joe Nickell, http://michaelprescott.typepad.com/michael_prescotts_blog/2005/10/psychic_detecti.html if your listeners will Google the name Joe Nickell, N–I–C–K–E–L–L, my gosh! He’s prolific in the amount of writing he has done, and he is one of the people who’s been out there for 4 decades, rolling up his sleeves, and actually going to the haunted houses, and going to The Nazca Lines in the desert to investigate them, and going to The Pyramids and what claims – phenomenon claims are going on around The Pyramids, and UFOs, and he’s just one example. There are people, out there, doing that sort of legwork, quite a few impressive people, in fact, and a lot –
Martin: Is it simple debunking, or is actually looking into them?
Evan: On, no. It’s actual investigation. It’s, in some cases, these things take many years, and they do some really, really hard work. They try to collect as much evidence as they possibly can for the claims that are being proposed, and all –
Martin: And, just a – I’m sorry I interrupted you. Who is funding Nickells, for instance?
Evan: Yeah, no, that’s a good question. You know, private donations is, pretty much, what keeps these skeptic groups going. You know, they organize themselves as federal 501c nonprofit organizations, so that people can give, for tax–deduction purposes, to these efforts. The New England Skeptical Society is a – is also a 5013c that we’ve organized ourselves as, and, yeah, we work, you know, and sometimes we put our own funds out there, and on the line, and we, sometimes, have to absorb our own expenses in order to do these sorts of things, and there’s not a lot of money to it, so we really have to be careful with those resources, but that work is, definitely, being done. Philip Klass, http://kevinrandle.blogspot.com/2011/09/philip-klass-and-his-letter-writing.html I mean, have you read any of Philip Klass’s –
Martin: Oh, I know who he is.
Evan: – books? I mean, you know, there’s a perfect example for your listeners. If they haven’t read any books by Philip Klass I really, strongly suggest that they do go out there and read any of his books, UFOs – the skeptical treatment of UFO investigation has been – was his sweet spot. It’s what he – half his career, sort of, was centered around it, so he’s just one of, again, many people who have done this sort of work, so yes. There are people, out there, doing this legwork.
Martin: I can feel a lot of people, out there, cringing, right now, when you mentioned Philip’s name. He stepped on a lot of toes. Evan, you’ve been absolutely fantastic. You’re, actually, a friendly skeptic, and I really appreciate having you on the show.
Evan: Oh, Martin, thank you so much. I appreciate you contacting us, and asking one of us to be on the show, and it, really, it was my pleasure to represent The Skeptics’ Guide To The Universe, and, if it’s okay, if people would like some more information about our show, our website is theskepticsguide.org, O–R–G. Give us, you know, check us out. Give us a listen, and, you know, we’d love to hear everyone’s feedback, as far as your listeners and your community, as far as what they think about the efforts we’re putting forth, so I appreciate it, Martin, very much.