News of the Weird Paranormal Pseudoscience Skepticism/critical thinking

Alien or puppet? You be the judge!

Even here at the ASCO meeting, I couldn’t help but be made aware (thanks to Steve Novella and others) about a brand-spanking new video of a supposed encounter with an alien that–unlike all the other dubious videos of alleged alien encounters–according to its maker will really and truly convince you that, really and truly, Aliens Are Real And Earth Has Been Visited by them. Why, you may ask, would I blog about such things when I’m at a meeting? Well, writing about clinical science is hard, and I haven’t had time to analyze the abstracts that I wanted to analyze, and blogging about this is easy and fun. True, blogging about the idiocy that will be descending upon Washington, D.C. in two days led by Jenny McCarthy is also easy, but it’s depressing, not fun. Besides, look at the picture!


Steve mentioned that only part of the video would be shown. Let’s see what UFO buffs are saying about this video, shot by Stan Tiger Romanek, now that a snippet of it has been shown:

A few minutes of grainy, black and white video show a shadowy creature with big eyes peeping over a windowsill. But does it show a puppet or an alien from outer space?

The video, purportedly capturing proof of alien life, was released this morning during a press conference at the Tivoli Student Union on the Auraria campus in downtown Denver.

Over the course of three minutes or so, the footage shows a white creature with a balloon-shaped head that keeps popping up and down in a windowsill that was 8 feet above ground. The face was white, with large black eyes that seemed to blink.

“If it was a puppet, it would be a very elaborate and sophisticated puppet,” said Alejandro Rojas, education director of MUFON, the Mutual UFO Network, who spoke at the press conference.

If the above photo (click to enlarge) is any indication, no, it wouldn’t. Of course, Steve Novella nailed it on the head:

I predict the quality of the video (distance, focus, clarity) will be just good enough to evoke the sense of an alien but not good enough to distinguish the creature in the video from some special effect (puppet, guy in a costume, CG).

Good prediction. Of course, it doesn’t diminish my respect for Steve one iota to point out that it was also a very easy prediction to make. After all, virtually every video or picture presented as “proof” of aliens (or Bigfoot or flying saucers, or the Loch Ness monster) is grainy and of sufficient quality to look sort of like what people expect to see but not of sufficient quality to tell conclusively if it’s a fake or not. Seemingly no one in 60 years has been able to do better, even now, with the so-called “best photos” being pretty crappy. I mean, come on! These days, my camera phone has a two megapixel camera that can take pretty darned good pictures. Compact and light video cameras capable of high definition video are becoming cheaper and cheaper and thus more and more common. You’d think that somebody somewhere would have done better than grainy, out-of-focus or blurred images. Really, do they even make black and white video cameras anymore? Why would Mr. Romanek change the setting on his video camera to black and white or process the video to black and white? Even in 2003, when the videos were allegedly shot, good quality video cameras were inexpensive and common I know, I know, he claims it’s an infrared camera, but if that’s the case then why did he just happen to have it pointing at the window at the right moment and, if he could afford an infrared camera, why couldn’t he afford a better video cameral for all the other videos and photos he took? Also, notice how pictures that are clear show nothing that can in any way be considered slam-dunk evidence of aliens or U.F.O.’s. (Note to Stan Romenek: You need to fix the code on your site for Flash video; it doesn’t render properly on Safari or Firefox.)

Of course, here’s the real reason why not all the video was shown:

A documentary is in production that will include much more of the videotape and other evidence, he says. It is due to be released later this year.

Of course it is, and he’ll probably sell it for a tidy sum to some cable TV station that tends to like to air such things. It wouldn’t do to show everything; the above shot is clearly just a teaser. It’s a lame teaser, but a teaser nonetheless. Naturally, though, The Man is trying to suppress evidence that there are aliens out there abducting men like Mr. Romanek:

Peckman has organized an initiative drive to require the city of Denver to create an Extraterrestrial Affairs Commission to handle alien encounters, saying that the government has not disclosed all it knows about the existence of life beyond Earth.

During the press conference, Peckman frequently referenced the initiative. A petition drive is currently underway. Peckman needs 4,000 signatures for the item to make it onto the November ballot.

Peckman also said the technological benefits of making contact with extraterrestrials make it a very worthwhile endeavor.

Governments and industry giants have an incentive to keep a growing body of evidence of the existence of aliens hushed up, Peckman said, because the technology they could bring eclipses anything available on Earth.

If you live in Denver, I’m sure you’ll be more than happy to sign this petition and vote for this lovely initiative to waste taxpayer money. But Peckman’s last statement brings up a point that’s always bugged me: If aliens have such amazing technology that they can travel to Earth from many light years away, then why, if they don’t want Earthlings to know of their presence, are they so bad at hiding completely? Or why, if they can travel that far, do they care if we know they’re here? Or even: Why is this particular alien reduced to peeping through a window repeatedly? Couldn’t he just scan the interior of the house. Finally, another question that always comes to mind is: Could the government really keep irrefutable evidence of alien visitations a secret? Wouldn’t somebody talk?

Oh, well, it’s just another example of the endearingly paranoid looniness of believers in alien visitations and abductions. I’ll finish by trying to one-up Steve in a prediction–multiple predictions, actually. I predict that, when the documentary is released, that there will be lots more grainy, black and white video that’s just good enough to look like the big-headed, big-eyed aliens that the media has cemented in our consciousness as what aliens look like but not of high enough resolution to tell for sure if it’s a fake. I further predict that Mr. Peckman will not take Steve’s advice on how to present the evidence in a scientific manner, so that those of us interested in these claims can evaluate them fairly and rigorously:

What I ask of Peckman and any others who wish to be taken seriously is that their evidence be presented in a scientific manner. That means we need transparency and documentation. We need to know who made the video, when, with what equipment, and we need the original media on which it was recorded. We want to investigate the location and the individuals involved. Peckman can protect his interests, but if he wants to be viewed as anything other than just another UFO crank, he needs to be completely forthcoming. We’ll see.

Finally, I predict that believers will believe Peckman, and the rest of us will either chuckle or yawn when the finished product comes out. But, hey, you never know. Maybe Peckman does have slam-dunk evidence of alien visitation. If he does, he sure has a funny way of showing it.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

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