'Alien Hunter's' true believer

'Alien Hunter's' true believer
May 5, 2009
By Billy Cox

In 1850, nearly 200 years after the last known dodo on Earth died in Dutch custody, a group of British biologists traveled to the island of Mauritius to prove the odd flightless bird actually existed. Failing to recover fossils, they opined that the silly Dutch had mistaken the creature for a cassowary, and pronounced the dodo a fraud against science.

Fifteen years later, the elusive dodo bones were discovered — but not by scientists. Digging like a madman through a marshy delta, a Mauritian schoolteacher named George Clark defied conventional wisdom and extracted the skeletal remains that restored the bird to its dubious perch in the chronicles of extinction.

There’s a shopworn mantra — “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof” — that allegedly skeptical scientists such as Seth Shostak frequently appropriate in order to debunk bugaboos like UFOs. To that statement one might add how such claims require rigorous investigation (witness George Clark), or that the author of that statement, Marcello Truzzi, went on to make another observation about what he called pseudoskepticism.

Truzzi, a former New College prof here in Sarasota who finished his academic career at Eastern Michigan University before his death in 2003, had major issues with critics who advanced science by fiat while presenting little evidence to back them up.

"They tend to block honest inquiry, in my opinion,” Truzzi stated. “Most of them are not agnostic toward claims of the paranormal; they are out to knock them . . . When an experiment of the paranormal meets their requirements, then they move the goal posts. Then, if the experiment is reputable, they say it's a mere anomaly.”

So it’s not surprising that Shostak would exclude Truzzi’s reservations from his latest book, “Confessions of An Alien Hunter.” After all, the senior scientist at the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute admits his pursuit of ET radio signals is in competition with “UFO fans” who “regard themselves as heroes denied a rightful place in the pantheon of discovery.

“It’s empowering to believe you know something of blazing importance that those ivory-tower types don’t,” he adds, “despite their fancy titles and tweed jackets. It’s class warfare: the proletariat versus the privileged.” Should an ET signal be confirmed by radio astronomers, “UFOs would have a hard time staying in the limelight.”

Actually, it’s hard to blame this otherwise thoughtful and eloquent astronomer for being so defensive. Like any religion or emerging movement, ufology is inhabited by wingnuts and paranoid gasbags, and Shostak has had his fill of being pummeled by their righteous certitude.

But maybe the real hangup here is semantic. No doubt reflecting the language of his detractors, Shostak persists in attributing the UFO phenomenon to a “belief” in alien spacecraft. Clearly, he has done enough homework to selectively interject the dusty government studies that let mainstream science off the hook in its confrontations with this problematic phenomenon. The termination of the USAF’s Project Blue Book in 1969 based on recommendations from the hopelessly flawed University of Colorado study gives Shostak and many others a pass to ignore all recent developments, such as the Mutual UFO Network’s remarkable 2008 report — http://www.mufon.com/documents/MUFONStephenvilleRadarReport.pdf — corroborating eyewitness reports with FAA radar data.

“Apparently,” Shostak writes, “if I don’t investigate the sightings, I cannot make a valid conclusion about alien craft. But that’s nutty.”

Maybe they’re alien craft, or maybe they’re not. What we know from myriad government documents acquired through the Freedom of Information act is that UFOs run circles around state of the art jet fighters, they tamper with our nuclear weapons systems, they exude disruptive electromagnetic effects, and they refuse to participate in double-blind crossover studies.

In addressing the 5 to 10 percent of legitimate “unknowns” in the official studies, Shostak says no one can conclude that “a few are actual alien spacecraft . . . unless you’re perversely allergic to logic.”

Again, maybe they’re from other planets, or maybe they’re not. But can we please refrain from dragging logic into this mire? Logic as a litmus test for reality? Oh please. Just ask the victims of hatred. Or love.
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