Here's my end of the conversation on this theme over at another site:
[edit by me to concentrate on pilot perception validation themes; full posts by other contributors can be read at original URL]
March 28th, 2011 12:17pm // Where did all the skeptics go? by Billy Cox
April 7th, 2011 12:13 pm
Robert: “As a scientist (I think you have a degree in the hard sciences or am I wrong?), don’t you believe that there is sufficient evidence to
justify a proper scientific investigation of this phenomenon?”
My answer would resemble the response of Gandhi when he was asked his view of “Western civilization”. So the story goes, he answered, “Well,
it’s certainly worth a try.”
My fundamental approach is based on a belief in the possibility of useful observations existing among the overwhelming number of misperceptions.
Filtering them out has so far, in my view, not been effectively performed.
Weinstein’s list is an example. It substitutes masses of ‘weak’ cases which can be sacrificed if explanations are found because there are
always “what-about-this-one” endless rejoinders.
But the ‘weak’ cases do have useful lessons to teach. They can show how pilot misperception functions when it occurs. This is not to say that
pilots are bad observers or dangerous to trust your lives to. It’s to suggest that when they do make perceptual errors — and they do so far more
often than proponents seem willing to admit — the stories can be really bizarre.
That’s the value of the space/missile events to understanding the perceptual process. They serve to calibrate — and warn, if we’re open to
that. And enhance the humility to realize that finding prosaic explanations is just not going to be possible in all cases.
I’d like to look at other cases. But so far, the solutions to the cases I have investigated, in my own specialty of missile/space operations, has
generally been resentment and closed-minded pooh-poohing [as Billy's earlier blog entry exemplified] , and always the retort, ‘So what, here’s
April 7th, 2011 8:55 pm
Robert: “As witnesses, pilots are far better than the average citizen. Can they make mistakes? Sure. But their mistakes are more likely to come
when an observational situation is unusual.”
Robert, I think this is a conclusion you are making from internal suppositions, not any external experiments or comparisons. It’s ‘obvious’
to you because you just feel it is true. If so, it can only reinforce your existing views, and not surprise you, or show you a way out of this
The unique value of space/missile apparitions, especially with pilots as witnesses, is that we can eliminate the uncertainties of what the stimuli
MIGHT have looked like. We then have a pseudo-controlled experiment with known visual inputs to the test subjects’ perceptual process.
I’d like to collect a hundred cases where pilots were fooled by such ‘standardized’ phenomena — maybe 50 will do. It’s not a scoreboard
of how many can be solved versus how many can’t. It’s an attempt, for the first time in ufology, to allow measurable calibration of the kinds of
misperceptions pilots can make.
It cannot be a percentage chance of the misperceptions because we’ll never have ALL reports including those where the pilots see things
accurately. There’s no need to dispute how likely it is — I agree it is not likely — but only what kind of perceptions are generated when it
I think this could lead to some breakthrough understandings of the perceptual process, and the kinds of faux-fos — false UFOs — that are
It’s only one category of the UFO evidence, admittedly. But it’s an opportunity that nobody was looking for, that’s fallen out of the sky
(literally), to start somewhere. Could it provide helpful insights?
April 18th, 2011 10:28 am
My proposed ‘experiment’ is more an analysis of a large number of pilot cases which are clearly artificially induced by missile/space events.
But the study requires a general agreement that this subset of raw UFO reports DOES consist of ‘IFOs’, and the reports are sparked by prosaic
phenomena. You will note a powerful resistance on the ‘pro’ side to concede these cases, aside from referring to them as ‘weak’ [itself a very
revealing choice of descriptor since it is only a hindsight assessment]. Mature and constructive reactions have occurred to my investigations, but the
most recent that I recall was in 1983 when the MUFON UFO journal ran my study of Soviet-era UFOs caused by FOBS tests. Significant effort was involved
in ‘solving’ these cases, so it is somewhat dismaying to note the gimmickry response of simply saying, ‘OK, but what about THIS one?’ over and
over again. We seem to see the proponents stuck on a self-verifying assumption about characteristics of pilot testimony, a statement of dogmatic
faith, with no serious interest in actually CHECKING that assumption against the body of reports and against some generally-ignored solutions to a
subset of that collection of reports. I see no ‘percentage’ in simply working through an essentially limitless parade of ‘next’ cases without
an agreed foundation of a set of solved pilot cases — say, the 1984 Minsk airliner. Why would it be worth my time to fall for this dodge if the
pre-existing response is to brush off any inconvenient conclusions, as has been the practice to date?
April 20th, 2011 9:41 am
Nemo: “There’s never been any question that at least 95% of sightings have a simple explanation, but different investigators should be allowed
to continue arguing differing opinions in regard to specific cases.”
You really seem resistant to ever agreeing that any specific case is ‘probably explained’. As for ‘simple’ explanations, some proposed
explanations are far from simple, involving unlikely coincidences and viewing conditions — situations which are rare but non-existent.
So far, I note, of the ten suggested pilot cases from the Haines and French data bases that I offered prosaic solutions for in my MSNBC article
last year, nobody has stepped forward to agree with even a single ONE of the solutions. After twenty years of direct challenges from me to Haines, he
has likewise refused to concede a single case. Isn’t that itself revealing of the reluctance to concede a millimeter for fear of — uh, exactly
We are left with a fundamentally unreliable basis for the entire study — the types of misperceptions that pilots may be prone to. Instead of
studying the data, and exploiting the unexpected opportunity of ‘baseline cases’ from documented space/missile events, you are making ad hoc
assumptions of what ‘must’ be true about that perceptual process, and then using the assumption to prove itself.
How pleased are you so far with the progress such an attitude has allowed you to make in understanding this phenomenon over so many decades? When
do you think it might become the right time to try a different approach?
April 25th, 2011 10:13 am
by SttPt: “Your approach .. is basically ‘it can’t be true, so isn’t, just trust me…’ Why would you expect anyone to take your 50-word
explanations at face value?”
SttPt, I would expect any fair-minded person, before making such a blanket accusation, would actually read more than a 50-word summary of a case
which I suggest is non-UFO. If you go back to the Kean essay and the links there, you will find my detailed treatment of the 1984 Minsk airliner
radar/visual/medical case, not a ‘weak’ case at all, in which a prosaic explanation suggests itself. Would you concede in that ONE case that the
evidence does not demand an extraordinary stimulus?
April 25th, 2011 10:40 am
Nemo69, thanks for the elaboration of your thinking on some of these cases, which is helpful in casting light on what I am suggesting is a
conceptual flaw in current ufological methodology.
When you write, “I also remember being sceptical that commercial pilots could misinterpret windblown contrails as a manoeuvring object, which I
believe you posited in regard to another case (I tend to place more faith in human cognitive ability, which I recognise may be a failing on my part,
however I certainly don’t believe that human perception is infallible),” I presume you are implying that you do not accept that particular
case’s solution. Then when you add, “I’m not sure how a list of explained/baseline sightings is beneficial, except as a checklist to aid
possible identification of future observations,” you perfectly support my point that the absence of what such a database can teach us about possible
forms of pilot misperceptions is fatal to any hope of achieving an understanding of baffling cases. I urge you to replace your “faith” with
demonstrated performance specifications of witness misperceptions, so that we can move beyond ‘faith’ into truly measurable cognitive performance
You put your finger on the problem that has bogged down ufology for half a century: “The problem I have with some of your explanations is how do
I chose between your opinion and a witness’s interpretation of what he or she has seen?” My answer is that my case studies are not merely
‘opinion’, they contain checkable facts. Alone among proposed prosaic explanations for SOME reports, missile and space events can be thoroughly
documented in time and space and their raw visual appearances are well known, at least to specialists [the recent ‘Norway spiral’ was
‘classic’ in its appearance but certainly caught the mass media, and ufology, by surprise]. When these events are documented to be occurring in
the fields of view of astonished witnesses, it is then my opinion that whatever it is the witnesses are later describing can be reliably ascribed to
the artificial apparition known to be in front of them [we can argue this interpretation]. The perceptual gap sometimes is narrow, but it sometimes
can be shockingly wide, and it will shake your ‘faith’ if you open your mind to that possibility. Add in the fact that often the original
stimulus’ documentation may be sketchy or entirely absent, and you have a recipe for – well, for artificial ‘unsolvable pilot UFO cases’.
Otherwise, your touching faith that all it takes to solve the puzzle is MORE money along the SAME assumptional pathways is, I further opine,
If it were all nonsense, these dead-ended wild-goose chases of modern ufology would be almost humorous. The significant possibility that one of
more types of genuine signals are being lost in the noise is what makes the current situation so dismaying to me.
April 25th, 2011 12:05 pm
SttPt: “Well then, look at the “signal” Jim, instead of explaining away the easy noise and urging people to accept that it’s ALL just noise
anyway.” Please help me locate what I’ve written or said, that you have interpreted in this way, so I can fix it.
The strongest that I believe I have EVER advocated is the view that the NEED for an extraordinary stimulus is not proven beyond a shadow of a
doubt, which is the burden of proof both in criminal trials and in establishing new scientific paradigms. I meant to make as clear as possible my view
that no extraordinary theory was proven false — just had failed to be adequately proven true.
If you have seen me make more absolute claims, please direct me thither so I can correct such misstatements. If you are carelessly imagining silly
positions you believe I should hold, as an argumentative technique, please do better.
Re the 1984 Minsk case, “I cannot figure out why you classify that as a hard case”/ Here’s how I see it: you have the advantage of making
this assessment after seeing the results of a long investigation blessed with heaven-sent evidence that is missing from most cases.
This was a radar visual with reported crew physiological effects. It was in Vallee’s books, all over the Russian UFO literature and western
reports of same, on TV documentaries, and in the Weinstein and Haines lists. The almost entirely unique copilot’s real-time log sketches — not the
days or even years old memories that pass for ‘testimony’ in other cases — were critical to the solution, along with the geographically distant
witnesses in Sweden. If both those ‘lucky breaks’ were absent, I might suggest this case would remain ‘strong’ and would be ‘unsolved’
It wouldn’t look any weaker than the other ‘strong’ cases that currently top the list.
Notice what still is missing: official confirmation [in Moscow and from the Pentagon] of such a sub-launched missile. Fortunately, there were other
strong tells of what likely caused it. Without those tells, and without complete records of space/missile activity during the sighting, how could this
case have been been considered anything but a top unsolvable pilot UFO encounter?
April 25th, 2011 2:31 pm
Nemo69: “…forgive me if I’m wrong, but the ‘contrail’ interpretation mentioned before appears to be an example of your opinion and
personal interpretation, not checkable facts. It is your opinion and apparent bias that I find problematic, not established facts.”
Are you referring specifically to the so-called “Tajik Air” UFO, on January 28, 1994, described here:
“They first encountered the object as a bright light of enormous intensity, approaching them from over the horizon to the east at a great rate of
speed and at a much higher altitude than their own. They watched the object for some forty minutes as it maneuvered in circles, corkscrews, and made
90-degree turns at rapid rates of speed and under very high g’s. Captain rhodes took several photos with a pocket olympus camera and will send
copies to the embassy and tajikistan desk (lowry taylor) in the department, if they come out. After some time, the object adopted a horizontal
high-speed course and disappeared over the horizon.”
As I pointed out, the regularly scheduled [and immediately announced] unmanned supply ship Progress M-21 was launched toward the Mir space station
at 0212 GMT on January 28.
Google/image “satellite launch contrail”, to get as many images of zig-zagging cork-screwing rocket contrails as you can tolerate.
For example www.spacearchive.info...
[news story here: www.spacearchive.info...
It is my contention that the documented appearance of a large space booster ascending into orbit, particularly its exhaust trail as sheared by
different layers of high altitude winds, looks exactly like what Captain Rhodes described. Uncanny similarity arguing for identical causality.
On what basis do you wish to argue a contrary opinion as to what it really was that the pilot was observing? And why it could NOT have been the
rocket? And if it weren’t the rocket, WHY NOT? How could he have missed seeing it also?
April 25th, 2011 4:57 pm
To SttPt-- You still refuse to imagine any process by which you can better characterize the nature of potential witness (especially pilots)
misinterpretation. Instead you — and your fellows — imagine your way to what those processes OUGHT to be like based on internalized assumptions.
And — lo! — those assumptions tend to verify your going-in judgments. What a surprise!
We’ve already lost the chance to really dig into so many ‘classic’ cases, as avenues of investigation die out, witness memory evolves with
each retelling, contextual documentation is lost or destroyed over time, and helpful clues fade before being recognized and followed up on. That
frustrates the heck out of me, too. But it’s the culture you seem unable to escape from.
April 25th, 2011 5:17 pm
SttPt, you claim you read my write-up of the Minsk case in Skeptical Inquirer, but if you really did, I am baffled by your comment about the kinds
of cases you prefer:
“Here are the words I used earlier: “the very strong radar cases, those with high strangeness, high maneuverability, long viewing times at
close quarters…” (And please keep in mind, I used those words prior to you even mentioning the Minsk case.)
“So, do you honestly think the Minsk case fits my description? You can’t possibly. Does a distant missile launch (thus, an angular speed of a
few degrees per minute, at most) sound like it could be “highly maneuverable”? Of course not. The object remained relatively fixed and/or slow
moving in both azimuth and altitude…. The Minsk case actually highlights why high-maneuverability is important: it precludes distant
SttPt, compare your description of the case with the descriptions of the two main accounts I quoted [which you read]:
Randles: “A radar visual case from the USSR began on an evening in 1985 [sic] at 4:10 AM when Aeroflot flight 8352 observed a strange yellow
light while cruising at 30,000 feet in clear conditions. … The light appeared to approach and resolved into a greenish luminosity as much as several
degrees in extent, which then paralleled their course. There were multiple lights of different colors and fiery zigzags that crossed the vapor.
….At this point, the aircraft was coming within range of the ground controller, who could then also see the object. …. A second aircraft was
vectored nearby and also could see the object near the first aircraft. Talinn approach radar detected the aircraft and the object, and also
unusual radar interference. (www.ufocasebook.com/ussrradar1985.html)”
…and also compare with the second account:
Stonehill: “The greenish cloud suddenly dropped below the altitude of the aircraft, ascended vertically, moved to the left and right, and then
stopped right across from Tu-134A [flight 7084]. The cloud was chasing it…. Lazurin shouted the object was teasing them.”
I am unable to understand how you can READ both those accounts of a reported highly maneuverable UFO and then WRITE how you would have already
known to discount that story because the UFO was NOT maneuverable.
April 26th, 2011 1:12 am
Question: “how do you decide which pilot observations or radar datasets to ignore, and which to give weight to”.
This is indeed the crux of the question. My point is that we do not yet KNOW how to decide, without studying the perceptual process with actual
events and subsequent reports.
One ‘decision’ is the one represented by current ufology: the witnesses are pilots, we presume they are familiar with aerial viewing, we trust
them with our lives, we therefore can rely on their reports to be accurate. End of debate.
One decision is represented by extreme debunkery. It brushes off any weird stories as due to pilot excitability, mental training bias, ego-driven
self-glorification, other traits that can be attributed to pilots, which consequently throw testimony into doubt.
Both extremes are internally self-defined by unspoken (even subconscious) assumptions that conveniently wind up reinforcing the going-in biases of
those who cling to them.
There ARE intermediate points of view, of value to this discussion.
Those who deal most intimately with pilot testimony to solve mysteries are members of the FAA/NTSB who investigate aircraft accidents. I suggest it
would be helpful for ufologists to study the attitudes of NTSB investigators to pilot testimony. As far as I’m aware, nobody has — or possibly,
some have, and have been dismayed by the findings, and have decided it’s best not to share the results with others in the field.
Hence my interest in a collection of accepted pilot witness misperception types. Since I am encountering resolute avoidance of agreeing with the
prosaic stimuli I have suggested for a number of such cases, let me throw the floor open to nominations from others. What are some typical pilot
misperceptions, with documentation, of prosaic stimuli that were reported as UFOs? Contributions to the draft data base, please?
April 26th, 2011 9:22 am
Nemo69: “Isn’t there a risk that your apparently crude approach to this specific problem will render any results moot?”
Certainly it’s possible — these are clearly poorly understood mental processes, and I’m a professional spaceflight operations expert, not a
But I figure, even a ‘crude’ approach is better than what we have now: NO approach at all. Unless you want to argue that current ufological
investigations are making clear progress towards clarifying the phenomena and merely need to be stepped up.
April 26th, 2011 10:20 am
“If a crude approach is better than none, then you should recognise the efforts of others.”
So if methodology is so mature and effective, why then are all those “weak” cases remaining in the Haines and Weinstein lists and elsewhere?
April 27th, 2011 7:42 pm
I want to draw attention to another example — and ask if can be characterized in advance as ‘strong’ or ‘weak’.
“high strangeness”_______________________ CHECK
“high maneuverability” _____________________CHECK
“long viewing times at close quarters…” ___________CHECK
along with reported EMI effects (but no radar?) _____ HALF CHECK
Multiple dispersed witnesses _________________ CHECK
April 27th, 2011 7:48 pm
It is a member in good standing of the Haines and Weinstein lists, and was the theme of a dramatization on a History channel UFO documentary.
It’s described on the ufologie.net site.
Aircraft – UFO encounters, Japan, March 18, 1965
On March 18, 1965, 7:06 P.M. local time, Japan, an airliner pilot reported being paced by a strange object over the Seto inland sea. The aircraft,
a Toa Air Lines Convair 240 with 28 passengers aboard, was over the Ie Shima Islands when the pilot suddenly noticed an oblong, luminescent object
approaching his plane. It came close to the airliner, causing the pilot to make a 60-degree turn to avoid a collision. The object then stopped, made
an abrupt turn and flew along with the aircraft for about three minutes. It finally disappeared toward Takamatsu.
April 27th, 2011 7:51 pm
Also on the MUFON UFO JOURNAL, # 263, March 1990, p. 22, first column (“Looking Back”) site at scribd.com, and at ufoevidence.org. The
footnotes indicate it is an investigated, verified case.
So — is it a ‘good’ one or a ‘weak’ one?
Feel free to investigate it yourself.
April 27th, 2011 9:54 pm
“Jim, the case you mention doesn’t sound like a genuine radar-visual case”..
All I claimed for this one was ‘EMI effects’, per the witnesses. But will you concede that the 1984 Minsk airliner was a classic radar-visual
The point I’m trying to make, that you are unwilling to even concede the value of testing, is that when you can be confident that a pilot was
looking in the direction of an apparition caused by a documented missile/space event, the perceptions that he reports can reasonably be concluded to
have been engendered by that visual stimulus.
Then you look at those perceptions, and it really is amazing how far they seem from what one might imagine they should be. So far, in fact, that it
would be unbelievable to connect them — if the stimulus weren’t independently established. Hence the unique value of this subset of stimuli.
That’s the insight to the way that the perceptual process can on rare occasion malfunction. The challenge then is to see if you can filter out
similar malfunctions from other reports from times where the stimulus is NOT documented, perhaps through military secrecy or simple oversight.
It’s not a bean-counting exercise in comparing solutions to single cases. It’s an assessment of the degree of unavoidable necessity of an
extraordinary stimulus, with the argument that there is no conceivable way that a prosaic stimulus could be so grossly misperceived.
I suspect you may be worried that under that argument, once the range of misperception can be shown to be far more variable than you would like to
‘assume’ (which is why you prefer assuming rather than actually testing), the necessity of extraordinariness looses its compulsion.
April 27th, 2011 9:56 pm
Doesn’t anyone on this forum have the slightest curiosity about how to actually investigate the Japanese case? You’d think that you actively
wanted to NOT know about possible prosaic explanations. And that attitude is supposed to provide a guaranty that a thorough effort has been made on
‘top cases’ to find such prosaic hypotheses? Ha ha. You can’t even do it on the easy ones.
April 27th, 2011 11:26 pm
“That is why (I’ll say it again) people keep asking for trusted and objective mainstream scientists to look into this phenomenon.”
And considering the way outsiders who think differently are treated by much of the community, why on Earth should somebody want to venture into
this field with new ideas?
This is sad, and such a waste. The most clever things I’ve seen posted here recently are excuses NOT to try a new approach, not to investigate
some canonical cases from the subset of rocket/space events, not to test current assumptions about eyewitness perception lest the desired conclusions
And not even to look at one particular case, which I think will demonstrate that rocket/space faux-FOs are not obviously ‘weak’ or useless
cases, they are often HARD to solve and once solved they force HARD realities about hitherto unrecognized modes of pilot perceptual performance that
may have profound implications for even the ‘best’ cases. Frightening implications.
Missile/space stimuli were causing major UFO sightings and flaps around the world since the dawn of the Space Age. Individual events were
identified, here and there, to be sure. But not the biggest and most culturally influential features of this sub-class. Never happened. Nor was the
opportunity recognized that this could offer for the first ever genuine calibration of a specific class of witnessing.
No, I don’t see any fervor hereabouts for taking this opportunity to enhance understanding of an intriguing feature of this phenomenon, instead I
see a defiant hunkering down into defensive mental posture.
April 28th, 2011 2:26 am
The fact that you still seem fixated on single-case-combat [“explain this one”] and not stepping back and actually validating your assumptions
about the perceptual process and its fruits indicates to me that I have failed to make my point clear and still need to seek out a different approach
and different set of metaphors. I’ll work on it from this end – please make an effort from yours.
April 28th, 2011 9:05 am
Nemo: “Would the rocket launched from this site (at 10:07 GMT) appear to be oblong, turn towards the aircraft while radiating a greenish light
and fly along with the plane for 3 minutes before heading south towards Takamatsu? (Trajectory of rocket?) Pilot misperception, or is it reasonable to
suspect that the pilot is describing a phenomenon distinctly different to the rocket launch? “
My short answers to your two questions are ‘yes’ and ‘no’. And that includes [in the first question] would a rocket have led one pilot to
notice a malfunction of his compass.
To require a separate manifestation in the sky simo with the rocket would require the rocket itself to have been invisible, or to seem too mundane
to even be worth mentioning, since the witnesses did not report seeing their UFO and a rocket simo. The odds of TWO such once-in-a-lifetimes
apparitions showing up in the same sky at the same moment are staggering.
You know what William of Occam would say, and I agree. And if we can conclude [with a high degree of probability] that what the witnesses perceived
when they were looking in the direction of the rocket, was caused BY the rocket, the implications are equally staggering [ditto with the 1984 Minsk
airliner case, and others].
Think about what this means when it comes down to trying to track back other witness perceptions to events for which the prosaic cause is not
established by documents accessible by investigators. And experience tells us that we have no right to expect such documentation to always be
There exists no responsibility to PROVE the perception was caused by such a prosaic phenomenon, merely to demonstrate a plausible probability that
it COULD have been – because we know it HAS been before. This is frustrating and imbalanced, but it IS ‘fair’. That’s because it’s the
proper assignment of the burden of proof in establishing the unavoidable need to postulate NEW types of phenomena to provide the only possible cause
of such reports.
If these stimuli had been any other kind of postulated prosaic cause, endless arguments based on preferred interpretations would get nowhere.
Subconsciously self-serving assumptions of how pilot perception OUGHT to behave would be untestable. This is the unique key provided by missile/space
events – they are OFTEN [not always] well documented, they are usually widely seen, and they are spectacular. And pilots do report them, on occasion
in highly garbled forms.
April 28th, 2011 5:32 pm
“Yes, I’m asking you to talk about a different type of case altogether, but I suspect you will not. (The Minsk case is not it, for reasons
I’ve stated at least twice, up above: strangeness/maneuverability.)”
I’m a little cynical about your post hoc pooh-poohing of a case where the crew did report maneuvering, and where physical injuries were widely
reported, as well as ground illumination from light beams from the UFO. Strangeness galore! It strikes me as all too convenient to ex post facto
dismiss a story that, had it been unsolved, would rate highly — as a number of respected ufologists had written.
April 29th, 2011 12:00 am
I don’t have to go far to come across pilot reports that seem germane to my study, and here’s another one — sorry they didn’t have time to
lock radar onto the UFO. But as for the detailed description of what the object looked like and how it maneuvered — what do you figure the
likelihood they were misperceiving something non-extraordinary?