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No proofs of parapsychology?
According to one popular opinion, there is not a single scrap of evidence for the existence of paranormal phenomena, i.e. phenomena which are really at odd with our current understanding of reality.
Interestingly enough several high profile researchers within the Skeptical camp disagree with this.
British scholar Richard Wiseman wrote:
“ I agree that by the standards of any other area of science that remote
viewing is proven, but begs the question: do we need higher standards of
evidence when we study the paranormal? I think we do. If I said that
there is a red car outside my house, you would probably believe me. But
if I said that a UFO had just landed, you’d probably want a lot more
evidence. Because remote viewing is such an outlandish claim that will revolutionize the world, we need overwhelming evidence before we draw
any conclusions. Right now we don’t have that evidence.“
Which he later clarified to mean:
It is a slight misquote, because I was using the term in
the more general sense of ESP — that is, I was not talking about remote
viewing per se, but rather Ganzfeld, etc as well. I think that they do
meet the usual standards for a normal claim, but are not convincing
enough for an extraordinary claim.
His colleague and friend Chris French agree:
„I know lots of parapsychologists personally now, which of course I didn’t at that time. I know lots of them are very intelligent, very rational people, and they hold their beliefs for very good reasons.“
„But the general thrust of what you’re saying I would probably actually agree with Richard. I mean, I’ve just written a chapter for a book that Stanley Krippner is editing. I’m at pretty much the same point myself. I actually first of all put the question, is there a double standard in science when it comes to parapsychology? And I say actually, yes, there is. Then I go on to say well, I think there should be. Which I think is just really the same point that Richard’s making here.“
Wiseman and French are two prominent Skeptics of parapsychology (as well as careful researchers) who constantly argue against the existence of genuinely paranormal effects.
Consequently, their acknowledgement truly speaks volumes for it is pretty unlikely they’d hold this position if there were indeed no shred of evidence in favor of parapsychology.
This also gives us a crucial key to understand the extraordinarily unfriendly and unpleasant discussions between Believers and Debunkers which often end up in a flurry of mutual insults.
The problem is not that there is no data indicating the reality of effects not readily explainable by mainstream psychology and neuroscience.
The problem is that they are seen as being so incredibly unlikely to begin with that the presence of fraud or systematic error seems far more plausible even though it would be dismissed if the implications of the results were mundane.
It is my contention that in many highly evidential cases of Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP) the same principle holds.
(It is important to realize that UAP does not stand for „alien spacecraft“ as I explained here).
I recently came across a very interesting case which nicely illustrates this point.
A UFO, a broken car and a deceiver?
The Val Johnson’s car incident has been thoroughly investigated by researcher Allan Hendry but unfortunately the only first-hand scholarly report I found is a translation into German by a group of Debunkers and I surmise that most of my readers won’t be able to understand it.
It was my main source for what follows.
But before delving into the case, I’d like everyone to undergo the following thought experiment.
Let us suppose that John Valley is known as being a upright and reliable policeman. He’s seen as highly intelligent by his colleagues, never told them any lie even if he might sometimes hide their coffee cups if he’s feeling a bit bored on the evening.
One night he calls the police station in a weak voice and asks them to come by because he just had an accident.
Arriving there, the deputy in service sees that his car lies halfway in the road and halfway in the trench besides. Opening the door, he realizes that Deputy Valley bumped into the steering wheel while braking and is therefore bruised, even if the wounds are moderate. The car has been made unusable.
John Valley explained that he saw a plane most likely belonging to drug smugglers. They hurtled straight to him and he could barely avoid a collision. He had to brake very violently in order not to fall entirely into the trench. He did not wear his safety belt and so his head bumped into the steering wheel so that he lost consciousness. John has been in a state of shock since he woke up.
The chief deputy of the county feels very concerned and wants to trigger a thorough investigation in order to find the culprits. A very recently hired young policeman comes to him.
„Boss, it’s true I know almost nothing about John Valley and only talked with him two times. But I consider it quite plausible he faked the whole thing and deliberately inflicted himself wounds to make it appear more real.
He repeatedly talked about organising regular patrols against smugglers. So maybe he pulled off a hoax to speed the whole thing up.
I went to him and asked him to undergo a lie detection but he refused and told me he felt insulted.
So you should calm down a bit. If there is an investigation which should be started now, it should concern Valley and his very probable intentional damaging of a service vehicle.“
Now if you were the chief deputy, how would you react to these assertions? I would conclude that the man I just hired is either a lunatic or a hopeless idiot trying to protect the smugglers having piloted the plane.
And I defy anyone to tell me with a straight face that he or she would have given in to the suggestion of the young person.
The real story
What follows is a summary of the story by careful ufologist Dr. Bruce Macabee as well as an analysis of Dr. Phillip Klass‘ attempt to debunk the case.
The first example of
a case for which Klass‘ proposed prosaic explanation is wrong,
or, at best, unconvincing, is the rather traumatic experience
of police officer Val Johnson of Warren, Minnesota. (See the
above reference, page 223). Shortly after 1:30 a.m., August 27,
1979, as he was cruising the countryside in his police car in
an area of low population, he noticed a bright light that he
could see through the trees of a small wooded area. Thinking
it might be a landed airplane carrying illegal drugs from Canada,
he accelerated along a road toward the area of the light. Suddenly
this light moved rapidly toward his car. He heard a noise of
breaking glass and lost consciousness. When he regained consciousness,
he was leaning forward with his head against the top of the steering
wheel. There was a red mark on his forehead which suggests that
he might have bumped his head on the wheel hard enough to render
him unconscious (he said he was not wearing his seatbelt at the
time). After regaining consciousness he called the police station.
It was 2:19 a.m.. He had been unconscious for about 40 minutes.
He reported that something had „attacked“ his car.
When another officer
arrived on the scene a few minutes after Johnson’s report, he
found Johnson’s car nearly 90 degrees to the road (blocking the
road) and skid marks nearly 100 ft long. Johnson was found in
a distraught condition, in a state of shock. He said he recalled
seeing the bright light rushing toward his police car and he
recalled hearing breaking glass. The next thing he recalled was
realizing he was sitting with his head on the steering wheel.
He did not recall skidding to a stop. He complained about pain
in his eyes and was taken to a doctor who could find no eye damage.
He did not complain of a headache.
Of particular importance
is damage to the police car. One of the two glass headlight covers
on the driver’s side had been broken; there was a large crack
in the windshield on the driver’s side; a plastic cover on the
light bar on top of the car had a hole in it; there was a dent
in the top of the hood, and two of the three spring-mounted antennas
were bent 60 or more degrees, with the bend occurring over a
short distance (i.e., sharp bends). Examination of the antenna
surfaces using a microscope showed that the insect matter („bug
tar“) that coated the antennas was „stretched“
at the bend, but there was no other disturbance of the insect
matter. Evidently the antennas had not been scraped or rubbed
when they were bent. Also, the electric clock in the car and
Johnson’s mechanical wristwatch both read fourteen minutes slow,
although Johnson was certain he had set both before he had begun
his nightly patrol.
The damage to the car
was physical evidence that something strange had taken place.
Careful studies of the damage were made by the police department
and by scientists working with the Center for UFO Studies. They
could find no evidence or reason to believe that Johnson had
damaged his own car. They could find no prosaic explanation for
the sighting. Klass also investigated the sighting. He spoke
to several people who knew Johnson and asked about his interest
in UFOs. According to his friends he seemed no more interested
in UFOs than in numerous other subjects. They could provide no
reason to believe he would intentionally damage his car to create
a UFO incident. He might „hide your coffee cup,“ one
gentleman told Klass, but „as far as we know, he’s never
told any untruths.“
Klass concluded his
discussion of the Officer Johnson UFO sighting by offering two
alternatives. He wrote:
„The hard physical
evidence leaves only two possible explanations for this case.
One is that Johnson’s car was attacked by malicious UFOnauts,
who reached out and hit one headlight with a hammerlike device,
then hit the hood and windshield, then very gently bent the two
radio antennas, being careful not to break them, then reached
inside the patrol car to set back the hands of the watch on Johnson’s
arm and the clock on the car’s dashboard. These UFOnauts would
then have taken off Johnsons‘ glasses, aimed an intense ultraviolet
light into his eyes, and replaced his glasses, while being careful
not to shine ultraviolet on his face. Or the incident is a hoax.
There are simply no other possible explanations.“
Klass‘ amusing version
of the „UFO/ET hypothesis“ should not detract from
the importance of his statement that, „There are simply
no other possible explanations.“ In other words, if it was
not a hoax then there is no prosaic explanation for this sighting.
Perhaps Klass realized that the hoax hypothesis was unconvincing
at best and intentionally tried to make the UFO alternative seem
silly. (One envisions „little green men“ or „grey
entities“ molesting the police car and officer Johnson,
perhaps laughing gleefully as they hammered his car!)
The police department
did not accuse officer Johnson of damaging the police car. Yet,
Klass‘ book, published about 3 years after the incident, clearly
implies that this event had to be a hoax since it was clearly
not a misidentification or a delusion (recall that, according
to Klass, roughly 98% are misidentifications and the remainder
are hoaxes or delusions). Several years after the publication
of the book I challenged Klass to send a letter to the police
chief of Warren, Minnesota, along with a copy of his book chapter
so that the police chief would realize that he should charge
Johnson with damaging the car. So far as I know, Klass never
did send such a letter and officer Johnson has never been charged
with damaging the police car.
Far fetched debunkers
Now I find Klass‘ proposed explanation both extraordinarily outrageous and laughable. And this wasn’t the first time he accused reliable and sincere witnesses of „deception“.
As the story I coined above made it clear, nobody would come to the idea of accusing such a witness of having committed a hoax had the consequences been mundane.
But in the real case, it’s even more unlikely that such a man would have staged the whole event.
The damages on the car were extremely complex and would have demanded an incredibly strong effort to design them mentally and to realize them. The damages on his eyes were serious and if he had caused them by employing an ultraviolet light he could have seriously damaged his vision if not made himself irremediably blind. Of course, reporting such a story might have also been extremely harmful for the career of a policeman.
(Historian Jerome Clark reported about an interesting exchange between Klass and Hendry on this topic).
The only putative evidence of Klass was that Johnson refused to undergo a lie detection or a hypnosis to better remembered what truly occurred back then.
But he forgot to mention that the middled-aged policeman was completely fed up with the whole story, saying that it caused an enormous strain to his family and himself and promising that an interview in 1980 would be his last one. There never were any kinds of monetary gains he reached (which Klass would surely have mentioned) and deputy Johnson finally dropped out of public sight shortly later.
Jerome Clark reported:
„On October 10, 1980, I spoke with Marshall County Sheriff Dennis
Brekke who was Johnson’s superior at the time of the episode. (Johnson
is now chief of police at Oslo, Minn.) Brekke dismissed Klass‘
„practical joke“ theory as absurd, saying Johnson was „too sincere“ a
man to create a hoax of this magnitude. He had spent time alone with
Johnson not long after the incident and seen a man so distraught,
confused and frightened that any suspicion of „acting“ was out of the
question. Nothing he uncovered during his department’s investigation
gave him the slightest reason to doubt Johnson’s word. Klass, of course,
had never met Johnson.“
„Hendry responded, „We’ve already heard from Philip Klass today a
perfectly excellent illustration of why it would be difficult to ever
convince the skeptics based on the facts.“ Hendry said that Klass‘
penchant for digging up irrelevant episodes in UFO witnesses‘ past and
using them as evidence that their testimony should be rejected amounted
to „character assassination.“ Hendry cited another case, the alleged
abduction of Travis Walton (…) in which polygraph tests had come to
conflicting conclusions, as had two polygraph experts who later reviewed
the charts. „Thus,“ he said „you begin to understand why I did not feel
that the final step in an examination of Deputy Val Johnson necessarily
rests on a polygraph examination.“
He added, sarcastically, „Actually, I’m inclined to agree with Klass, I
think that Val Johnson is such a practical joker that he deliberately
injured his eyes – as judged by two doctors – and he deliberately
entered a phony state of shock for the benefit of the ambulance driver
who removed him from the scene of the accident.“ (Clark, 1981.) Hendry
remarked that Johnson’s casual talk of a „UFO patrol“ reflected a
belief, widely held in rural America at the time, that there was a link
between UFOs and seemingly mysterious cattle deaths…“
So if not taken in isolation but in the entire context, Johnson’s refusal to undergo hypnosis and lie detection is much more consistent with him wanting people to leave him and his family alone than with an enormous swindle.
I think that a honest Skeptic should go about this in the following way:
„Yeah, it’s true that in the story you created above, the evidence for the presence of drug smugglers would have been airtight.
But however incredibly unlikely a hoax might be a priori, in the real case the involvement of putative ETs is (a priori) even more unlikely by many orders of magnitude.
Therefore we’ve absolutely no other choice left than concluding that deputy Johnson was indeed a deceiver, all appearances notwithstanding.“
But as I argued elsewhere, a debunker cannot just state that the involvement of unknown causes is extremely improbable to begin with. No, he also has the burden of proof to explain us why this is so.
In future posts, I’ll argue that Debunkers can’t do that without seriously begging the question.
Unidentified light -> hoax or starship?
This leaves us with wondering about what truly happened to him.
Normally when Debunkers (often wrongly) think they’ve found a compelling explanation for a case, they flaunt it everywhere.
Surprisingly, while seeking for such an explanation on the internet, I found absolutely nothing.
German leading debunker Werner Walter wrote back then: „We hope to be able to publish further, direct research and analysis results.“ but to the best of my knowledge they’ve remained completely still up to that point.
I think that this silence is extremely revealing.
It shows that Skeptics don’t buy the hoax theory of Phillip Klass and that they could not plausibly account for the incident until now.
The very shape and position of the damages led investigators from both the police and the serious „Center for UFO studies“ (founded by respected researcher Allen Hynek) to rule out that any known aircraft or atmospheric phenomenon (such as ball lightning) caused all the observed effects.
One element is extremely puzzling. Both the clock of the vehicle and the mechanical anti-magnetic wristwatch of Johnson stopped apparently for 14 minutes. It could be shown through notes of Johnson that they were working before the accident.
This element is clearly not accountable by a collision with any vehicle or the interaction with ball lightnings or any other electromagnetic phenomenon.
So I basically agree with Klass that there are only two alternatives:
1) Johnson encountered by chance an otherworldly craft
2) The whole thing was a hoax.
Yet I think that Klass was mistaken in thinking that the swindle could only have been committed by the witness himself.
As someone suggested to Bruce Macabee:
>Surely there are more than two possible explanations. Klass >asserted that either ETs damaged the police car or Johnson >damaged it (for reasons unknown). Another obvious possibility is >that someone else damaged it. There is apparently no doubt that >t was damaged, and, from the descriptions Johnson gave of the >incident, he was not in a state to be sure of what was happening >to him. A possible interpretation of his testimony is that >someone intercepted his car, attacked him and did the damage."
To which Macabee answered:
Wow! Poor old Phil must be turning over in his grave! A skeptic is - implicitly, if not explicitly - criticizing him over his explanation of a UFO sighting, where U stands for unidentified. Phil no doubt considered the "somebody (human) must have done it" hypothesis with the corollary that if Johnson didn't do it, some other human did. But he aparently couldn't figure out who the other human might have been who had a reason to: a) break several of the lights on the police car (headlight, light bar on the top) b) set Johnson's watch and his car clock back by about 14 minutes c) cause Johnson to stop his car so suddenly it skidded a considerable distance, perhaps by throwing a burning white flare at the car and d) bend two very stiff wire antennas without disturbing the "bug tar" on the antenna (a human has to grasp the antenna and exert considerable force to bend it; this force can rub off the bug tar)
It is clear that a random hoaxer could not and would not commit such an incredibly complex act of deception.
But very well organized people disposing of the technological means could have staged the whole event. Naturally I’m thinking on psychological warfare.
Dr. Jacques Vallee and John Michael Greer have presented intriguing evidence that diverse secret services and powerful organizations faked supernatural or otherworldly events in order to confuse their foes. If they’re right, we do have a purely earthly explanation for the incident.
Still, it remains very speculative this occurred at this particular place and time.
I really can’t rule out the possibility that the case was a hoax caused by unknown entities.
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