Thursday, 29 January 2015

Carl Sagan, Science and UFOs: Some Observations on the Subject

The following exchange occurred on Facebook and has been reproduced here for the interest of Spookyweather readers:

Comment: Sagan's book "The Demon Haunted World" has been my skeptical bible for the past 15 years. We need more critical thinking NOW!

“We’ve arranged a society on science and technology in which nobody understands anything about science and technology, and this combustible mixture of ignorance and power sooner or later is going to blow up in our faces. I mean, who is running the science and technology in a democracy if the people don’t know anything about it.” – Carl Sagan


Response: Great quote and good observations by Sagan in the interview 'summation' but I humbly submit that there are serious problems with the Demon Haunted World which I also own. There are various claims made about UFO phenomena that are unsupported by evidence. Chapter 4 highlights the issue.

Sagan on p. 65 highlights the evidence so far collected (in the 50s)where he cites pilots, military people etc (but omits people like astronomers who have had sightings) and also radar and some some photographic evidence but then associates this with known hoaxes and with a story about hass hallucinations and misidentifications.

He talks about how Kenneth Arnold's sighting in 1947 was misreported where he only said the objects seen skipped like a saucer on water - not that they were saucer shaped. Sagan points out that according to Arnold, the first object flashed a number of times. This implies that the sighting was some sort of reflection. What is omitted is the fact that Arnold said that the 9 objects he saw were crescent shaped objects. If you google Kenneth Arnold you can see him with an artist's impression of what he saw. Also, Sagan tends to confabulate sighting reports (objects in the sky) with claims of alien abduction, thus leading us into an argument about alien visitiations and motives (that he uses to 'ridicule' the rest of the subject) which takes us away from analysis of the data - what is being observed. This removes us from a discussion of actual cases coming from the 'sober' observers he mentions on p.65. A generalised debunk is used of things that may account for observations - balloons, venus, aircraft, meteors, kites, mirages, sundogs, swamp gas etc. Juxtaposed to the best sighting reports these explanations to not hold water.

The biggest problem when it comes to sound analysis - which Sagan cites - is the Hollywood portrayal of UFOs/ETs and the fact that the world is filled with gulible people who with very little scientific training sometimes tend to jump to conclusions when they see something slightly out of the ordinary (although in real world examples most often people try to fit what they are seeing to know objects like aircaft first before coming to other conclusions - rightly or wrongly).

Sagan in Chpter 4 wrote he could not find any adults interested in the subject because they were all interested in Cold War matters - but clearly where were a number of credible people interested in what was going on at the time - especially after 1950 and 1952 when there were a number of 'flaps'. Reading journalist Donald Keyhoe's books from the 50s you can see that there was a level of serious interest in 'interplanetary' visitation from various respected scientists. There was not a blanket dismissal of the idea.

The pressure of not taking the subject seriously came from respected debunkers like Dr Donald Menzel, the sections of the media, and airforce denials. However, the US airforce astronomical consultant, Dr J. Allen Hynek, wrote a book (1972) dealing with analysing sighting data after Project Blue Book was shut down that criticised how the airforce conducted their investigations. It's also worth reading the original copy of Capt. Ruppelt's, who was a head of Blue Book, 1956 account of various sightings (he was pressured by the airforce to issue an 'updated' edition of his book where he adds material to denigrate the tone of the first copy).

Also recommended reading is papers submitted to Congress by atmospheric physicist Dr James McDonald, summations on the subject by Stanton Friedman (see video clip at the end), the modern history of the subject written by Richard Dolan, and the book 'The Missing Times' about how the media has treated the subject (the firewall between local news and national broadcasters) by Terry Hansen (who also wrote a history of the CIA for AE911truth pointing out that the CIA has always been involved in domestic information control/disinformation, and not overseas intelligence). I highly recommend watching the doco - UFOs, Lies and the Cold War.

Like any fringe subject there are people who believe any claim, but there is a core of data, misrepresented by various respected figures throught the decades, that does point to a real phenomena.

Stan Friedman on Sagan and science

[Interested readers will have to Google the information cited in the text.]

[Posted at the SpookyWeather blog, January 29th, 2015.]

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