Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Extraordinary claims (used to) require extraordinary evidence OR the gray lady and the little green men

I wish I had times to do this justice. When the New York Times just tees one up, you want to take your best swing...

As you may have heard, we now have proof that there a aliens among us, that their craft are capable of defying the laws of physics but are still remarkably prone to crashing, thus providing us with multiple crash sites complete with wreckage to reverse engineer and bodies to autopsy. 

The proof in this case is mainly some grainy videos ...

NASA on Wednesday conducted its first public meeting regarding UFOs, following a year-long study into unexplained sightings. The four-hour hearing was televised and featured an independent panel of experts. The team comprised 16 scientists and various other specialists, handpicked by NASA, including retired astronaut Scott Kelly, first American to spend nearly a year in space. 

“I want to emphasize this loud and proud: There is absolutely no convincing evidence for extraterrestrial life associated with" unidentified objects, NASA's Dan Evans said after the meeting.


... and something we heard from a guy who heard it from a guy who definitely knew what he was talking about.

Grusch said the recoveries of partial fragments through and up to intact vehicles have been made for decades through the present day by the government, its allies, and defense contractors. Analysis has determined that the objects retrieved are of exotic origin (non-human intelligence, whether extraterrestrial or unknown origin) based on the vehicle morphologies and material science testing and the possession of unique atomic arrangements and radiological signatures,” he said.

Tucker and other fringe dwellers jumped on this but more surprisingly, so did the mainstream press.

Here's a representative sample from Matt Stieb writing for New York Magazine.

While a previous UFO expert in the government might have been discredited, Grusch has bona fides that are worth taking seriously. Grusch is a 36-year-old combat veteran of Afghanistan who was a member of the Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force, the program run by the Office of Naval Intelligence to investigate UFO sightings. From 2019 to 2021, he served on the task force as the representative of the National Reconnaissance Office, considered one of the big five of the U.S. intelligence agencies. His colleagues think highly of him, too. Karl Nell, a retired Army colonel who was also on the UFO task force, told the Debrief that Grusch was “beyond reproach.” Nell even backed up one of Grusch’s claims in the complaint: that there is an ongoing competition with other countries to “identify [UFO] crashes/landings and retrieve the material for exploitation/reverse engineering.”
Unfortunately for all these respectable publications, Grusch started giving more interviews and it turns his conversation with the Debrief interview was what he sounds like when he's on his meds.

In his follow-up, Stieb walks back his earlier credulity so fast you can hear the Doppler effect.

The UFO Whistleblower Is Back With More Crazy Claims

Grusch claimed the first UFO case he was briefed on involved a vehicle downed in Italy in 1933; the Mussolini government had allegedly kept it in storage until near the end of World War II. Pope Pius XII “back-channeled” the existence of the object to the United States, which obtained it in 1944 or 1945.

Grusch said he has spoken with intelligence officials who have been briefed on giant UFOs observed by the U.S. military. “A lot of them are very large,” he claimed. “Like a football-field kind of size. I remember interviewing these personnel and thinking, Either these people are lying to me, having a psychotic break, or this is some crazy but true stuff that’s happening. And I have no good explanation that’s prosaic at all for this because this is not explainable by swamp gas, Saint Elmo’s fire, a ball of lightning, etc. This is like tangible, technical craft we’re seeing up close and personal in some cases.”

The New York Times, by comparison, is standing firm, largely because it doesn't have much choice. The authors of the Debrief story are NYT reporters (Leslie Kean and Ralph Blumenthal -- remember those names) and the paper has been all over this story for years, often in full "the truth is out there" mode, ignoring any number of warning signs.

One troubling aspect of these reports is the recurring connections to the paranormal community and its financial backers (you knew there had to be a loony right wing billionaire involved somehow).

Lots of ties to this place.

You don't have to do much googling to realize that a lot of names you're hearing are people who either believe or claim to believe lots of incredible things. Some of these connections are rather indirect. Some are not.

Here's the Kirkus Review of Leslie Kean's 2017 book, Surviving Death: A Journalist Investigates Evidence for an Afterlife:

How do you begin to investigate whether there’s an afterlife, a beforelife by way of reincarnation, a limbo state by which the dead walk among the living, and so forth? Insisting that her intriguing though ultimately unconvincing project is a journalistic account, Kean (UFOs: Generals, Pilots and Government Officials Go on the Record, 2010, etc.) heads off to talk to the psychics. “To locate them, I checked with two respectable organizations that run certification programs for mediums,” she writes. Respectable? That’s a value judgment—and just how does one certify a medium, anyway? The author dutifully explores the ethereal realms, looking into out-of-body and near-death experiences, “intermission memories,” apparitions and auras, and the like. The whole enterprise is garbed in a sort of science-y mantle, replete with terminology along the lines of “living-agent psi” and “materialization.” Mostly, Kean’s argument is one of assertion; as one of her like-minded contributors puts it, “I am now ready to say that we have good evidence that some young children have memories of a life from the past.” Unfortunately, that good evidence is not forthcoming, and in any event, as the same contributor notes, children who express these memories tend to be “very intelligent and very verbal,” which might lead a skeptic to conclude that such stories are inventions of the imagination. In the end, Kean’s case proceeds on touchy-feely grounds (“these feel so clearly external to me, that I am compelled to allow them that reality”) without much in the way of actionable proof: it’s certainly not science, and it’s not really journalism, either.
[I'm certainly glad he didn't go with one of those disreputable organizations that run certification programs for mediums.]

I realize some of these feel like cheap shots, but much of what Kean offers as support for these extraordinary claims boils down to "you should trust my sources because I trust them."

As an indication of just how committed the paper is to this narrative, Kean was given the whole hour of Ezra Klein's last podcast. It starts out just as bad as you'd expect, with a great show of performative "open-mindedness" as an excuse for a lack of critical thinking. Klein does finally start asking a few pointed (though not that pointed) questions toward the end but coming that late, they felt to me more like ass covering than anything else.

There's much more I should be digging into here but I've run out of time. Perhaps we'll come back to this. In the meantime, you might want to check out this good if snarky debunking of some of these claims.

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