Summary: The November 2001, issue of Scientific American (p.36) has a column by Dr. Michael Shermer entitled "Baloney Detection." Shermer is the Founding Publisher of Skeptic magazine, and is much younger than the old line skepticbunkers to which ufologists have become accustomed, such as Philip Klass. He provides the following rules for testing to see whether claims about unusual phenomena are pseudoscience, or science, and unintentionally provides a means for evaluating debunker views as well. Here are some claims about UFOs (from skeptics) that we can put through Shermer's tests.
The November 2001, issue of Scientific American (p.36) has a column by Dr. Michael Shermer entitled "Baloney Detection." Shermer is the Founding Publisher of Skeptic magazine, and is much younger than the old line skepticbunkers to which ufologists have become accustomed, such as Philip Klass. He provides the following rules for testing to see whether claims about unusual phenomena are pseudoscience, or science, and unintentionally provides a means for evaluating debunker views as well: (in summary)
"1. How reliable is the source of the claim? Pseudoscientists often appear quite reliable, but when examined closely, the facts and figures they cite are distorted, taken out of context, or occasionally even fabricated."
"2. Does this source often make similar claims? Pseudoscientists have a habit of going well beyond the facts."
"3. Have the claims been verified by another source? Typically, pseudoscientists make statements that are unverified or verified only by a source within their own belief circle"
"4. How does the claim fit with what we know about how the world operates? An extraordinary claim must be placed into a larger context to see how it fits."
"5. Has anyone gone out of the way to disprove the claim, or has only supportive evidence been sought? This is the confirmation bias, or the tendency to seek confirmatory evidence and to reject or ignore disconfirmatory evidence."
Here are some claims about UFOs that we can put through Shermer's tests:
A. "The reliable cases are uninteresting and the interesting cases are unreliable. Unfortunately there are no cases that are both reliable and interesting." Dr. Carl Sagan, astronomer, Other Worlds, Bantam, 1975, p. 113.
B. "On the basis of this study we believe that no objects such as those popularly described as flying saucers have overflown the United States. I feel certain that even the unknown 3% could have been explained as conventional phenomena or illusions if more complete observational data had been obtained." Donald A. Quarles, Sec. Of the USAF, Oct. 25, 1955, DOD Press release 1053-55.
C. "All non-explained sightings are from poor observers." Dr. Donald Menzel, astronomer, Physics Today, June 1976.
D. "Almost every sighting is either a mistake or a hoax. These reports are riddled with hoaxes, and the flying saucer enthusiasts have so many cranks, freaks, and nuts among them that Hynek is constantly running the risk of innocently damaging his reputation by being confused with them." Dr. Isaac Asimov, author, Fantasy and Science Fiction, Feb. 1975 p.132.
E. "The unexplained sightings are simply those for which there is too little information to provide a solid factual basis for an explanation" Ben Bova, editor Analog, December 1975, p. 172.
These statements by eminent men all have some things in common: a.) None provide any data to substantiate them. b.) None reference any data to substantiate them. c.) All are demonstrably false, as can be easily determined from Tables I and II, the data being taken from Project Blue Book Special Report No. 14, (Ref. 1), the largest UFO study ever done for the US Air Force. Quarles was talking about BBSR 14, Menzel had a copy, and Sagan, Bova, and Asimov had been given the data.
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