Saturday, October 11, 2008

An Expert Speaks.

Many have said that, when it comes to anything that can be called 'paranormal', there are no experts.

It's true. Those of us who devote considerable time and effort to paranormal matters do end up knowing more about them than those who don't study them at all, but that's true of anything. None of us can claim to be 'an expert' because we can't prove any of it to anyone else yet.

If you're an architect, and all the buildings you design stay up, then you're an expert. If you drive a racing car and never crash, whether you win or not you're an expert driver. Things like that are quantifiable - an architect whose buildings are hideous and unsafe is not an expert, one whose buildings are attractive and secure is an expert. The paranormal is not quantifiable in this way because I can't present a ghost on demand, a UFO researcher can't show any piece of a spaceship or an alien, Bigfoot hunters have never caught one, and so on. We can claim to be 'researchers' but we can't claim to be 'expert' because there is no solid evidence as yet so there is nothing to base any claim to expertise on.

When anyone comes up with 'an expert says' as 'proof' that their statements are true, I loose a little more enamel from my teeth when they grind together.

So, let's take a look at the most recent case of this, in which an 'expert' claims that UFO's have been visiting Earth since 1947. Let's not even mention Alexander the Great's claimed sighting, nor any of the others that might or might not have been alien ships in the historical record. Let's hear this expert speak. He's talking about Roswell, the famed 'Area 51'.

The area is surrounded by charred trees and bushes and a mysterious blue substance that dribbles down rocks.

We have stuff like that here. We call it 'water'. Seriously though, if there is a 'mysterious blue stuff' then it should be simple enough to sample and test it. Charred trees and bushes - in a desert - don't sound too surprising either. Dry trees and bushes catch fire easily. We even have occasional forest fires in the UK, where there are no deserts, few forests, and it rains almost every day. So, aside from the mysterious blue substance which, it seems, evades attempts to sample it, there's nothing paranormal so far.

US physician Dr Ronald Rau said in the 1940s high levels of radiation pointed to a ship landing there in the 1940s.

Two things here. First, in the 1940's there were quite a few nuclear bomb tests in the American desert. Nobody knew quite how deadly the radiation was so I'm betting there were no serious attempts to track where the fallout landed. When Chernobyl blew up, in Russia, there were radiation effects here in the UK. So those bomb tests probably spread fallout over quite a lot of desert.

Second, how does Dr. Rau know the propulsion mechanism of unknown alien spacecraft? Even if their engines are nuclear, if they leak radioactive material to the point where it can be detected at landing sites, then their occupants would all be dead on arrival. Would an alien race capable of travelling between worlds really build such shoddy machines?

Saying that high levels of radiation indicate a landing site for an alien ship is not just jumping to conclusions, it's Olympic standard pole-vaulting to them. Science is not advanced by guessing.

Mr Mantle said: "A good friend of mine Ed Gerham first found the site and I flew over as soon as I could. It was a real find and as soon as I arrived there I knew what a special and peculiar place it was. There is nothing around it for around 70 miles, it is literally in the middle of nowhere."

The only thing special about this place, it seems to me, is that nobody wants to go within 70 miles of it. That doesn't lead me to conclude that an alien landed there. It leads me to conclude that this is an especially horrible place to be. Since these aliens must have come a very long way, choosing a landing site that's 70 miles from anything interesting doesn't sound like good planning. Did they really travel all those light years to land somewhere so dreadful that none of the locals want to live there?

I can't see why this expert is so convinced that he's found anything interesting at all. What he appears to have found is a place nobody else wants to visit, so why would an alien find such a place irresistible? And why does it prove that aliens only arrived in 1947?

"Us Brits really have beaten the Americans at their own game and it is really great that we have done that. It really is revolutionary for the UFO world."

Really great? Why? Are you researching or competing? Before you claim glory, it might be an idea to wait until you've discussed your findings with other researchers, and not just UFO researchers. If you have some blue stuff, get a chemist and a geologist to look at it. It might just turn out to be something natural. Have a biologist take a look too, in case it's some kind of lichen.

The 'blue stuff' might turn out to be the UFO equivalent of 'ectoplasm'. Ectoplasm never existed. It was made up by fakes in the 1800's, and was usually muslin, treated to make it glow in the dark. For a long, long time, and still to this day, that faked paranormal phenomenon has dogged those who try to study real paranormal phenomena. It was eventually debunked, proved to be nothing but fakery, and it had fooled some pretty eminent scientists. It absolutely fooled the public.

Ectoplasm is one of the sceptic's main weapons now. This 'blue stuff' could turn out be another such weapon, handed on a plate to those who want to deride an entire subject. The sensible thing to do would be to get it tested every way possible, get it analysed, and get experts (who really can claim the title) in chemistry, geology, biology and any other relevant subject to attest that it has no natural explanation. Then, it's paranormal. If it turns out to be normal after all, then this guy has just made a rod for his own back.

Mr Mantle is set to reveal his full findings at the UFO Data Annual Conference later this month in Leeds.

Unfortunately I won't be able to go. I expect Fortean Times will cover the event so I'll just have to wait for that.

I don't claim the title 'expert' because that particular pedestal is very fragile indeed. It's based on personal experience and theory only. Paranormal research doesn't have collections of samples and artefacts to study. The things I study can fade into the air before my eyes, the UFO's these guys study can fly away and leave no trace (I refuse to believe they have leaky engines). Unless someone else sees them for themselves, there is no way to convince anyone else of their existence. There are no specimens in jars.

Until there is some absolutely incontrovertible evidence, claiming the title 'expert' is just asking to be shot down in flames.

I'll stick with 'researcher'.


Anonymous said...

sorry, but these are becoming waaaaaaay toooooo looooooong for me to have time to wade through them.

Southern Writer said...

I enjoyed the whole thing a lot and laughed in a couple places. You're so right about all of it. And I hope you won't be discouraged by people with the attention span of a gnat. I guess not everyone has the ability to focus for long periods of time. That may be why you're a professional scientist, and the non-reader above is ... missing out on a great post.

Anonymous said...

southern - you needn't be snotty about it.
some people just don't HAVE much available time for blogs etc
a few 'minor' things like earning a living come first and take up TIME not available for computer pursuits!

Romulus Crowe said...

SW- glad you liked it.

Anon does have a point though. This one is rather long. All the same, Anon - what do you think of it overall? Since you came back, I'm guessing most of my ramblings are to your liking?

I'll try to break them up with pictures more often, and cut back on the long ones!

Southern Writer said...

You're the one who was snotty, Anon. "these are becoming waaaaaaay toooooo looooooong for me to have time to wade through." How does that sound to you? You could have said nothing, or you could have said, "this one is kind of long, I'll have to return to it later," or you could have sent Rom a private note and told him that you enjoy them, but explain you're always short on time and ask him if he could cut them back a bit. But no, you were a little rude.

Anonymous said...

Rom, overall? yeah, I like this blog but haven't enough time for the long posts.
the extra letters in the words were to stike a humorous tone of lament but obviously struck a dif note to southern.

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