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James Randi RIP

It ought to be of interest to anybody skeptical of anything that James (the Amazing) Randi has just died at the age of 92.

As a kid in the 60’s and 70’s, I was a major UFO enthusiast with minors in ancient astronauts and bigfoot. I subscribed to publications from outfits such as NICAP (where I got an autographed copy of J. Allen Hynek’s book), APRO and MUFON. My mom, who was a bit of a ghost enthusiast, and was happy to see her introverted son interested in anything, found me a big box of UFO books at a rummage sale. Through college and beyond my interest waned as I explored skeptical writers, particularly Carl Sagan, Martin Gardner and James Randi. I still have an historical interest in UFOs and highly recommend the book, Shockingly Close to the Truth : Confessions of a Grave-Robbing Ufologist, by James Moseley.

I would often run across Randi’s take on paranormal coverage in magazine articles and TV interviews. I always found him interesting and illuminating. I watched his takedown of Peter Popoff on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show in real time. At around the turn of the century/millennium, he made an appearance at a nearby community college and I got to ask him a question. I had gotten there late coming back from work and I was dressed all grubby and dirty. If I hadn’t been, I’m sure I wouldn’t’ve been distinguishable enough from all the other attendees who wanted to ask him a question. Global warming did not come up in his presentation (at least while I was there) and I asked him about it. I’ll try to paraphrase my question from memory:

There’s been a lot of talk about junk science and there’s this issue of global warming. Is there any junk science related to global warming and which side has the junk science?

I was expecting him to take the warmist side. He was a close friend of the recently deceased Carl Sagan who was a proponent. He even called Sagan a dear dear man at that event. I was rather surprised when he gave a long rambling ambiguous answer. He mentioned Carl Sagan’s view. He seemed to be wary of the term “junk science”. Perhaps he associated it Steve Milloy’s website. The term had no particular partisan meaning to me. It was the only thing I could come up with off the top of my head to denote bad science. I like to think that my slovenly appearance made him uneasy about what the consequences of trying to reduce greenhouse gases might be.

Randi has always been a pillar of the skeptic community. For some reason this bunch has taken a rigid alarmist view on climate. At Judith Curry’s Climate Etc., Planning Engineer (Russ Schussler) has a great detailed post on this. In it, he describes how Randi wrote a post critical of global warming and got rebuffed by the skeptical community:

Within the skeptical community, increasingly after the turn of the century, some began to equate climate doubt with quack beliefs. Randi weighed in with a dissenting posting on AGW in late 2009 where he said “Happily, science does not depend on consensus.” (Click here – It’s worth a read.) A huge outcry erupted and many labelled him a denier or worse such that he posted a follow up “retraction”. At the same time, climate “advocate” Phil Plait was serving as president of Randi’s organization (JREF) and was actively engaged in fund raising efforts which appeared hampered by this inconvenient posting. The Bad Astronomer worked within the skeptical community to “rehabilitate” Randi. Perhaps Randi had given too much credence to the Global Warming Petition Project. (It wasn’t the first or last petition or survey to be given too much credit.) His other points were ignored. Basically it became fairly clear at that time that dissent from the climate change orthodoxy would not be tolerated.

Since then Randi has been redeemed in the eyes of climate alarmists and embraced “science”. In 2013 Randi’s The Amazing Meeting (TAM) with the theme “Fighting the Fakers”, provided over a thousand attendees the opportunity to be addressed by Michael Mann. Randi along with Michael Mann, Bill Nye, James Hansen, Bill McKibben and Michael Ruse serves on the National Center for Science Education Advisory Council whose goals were expanded in 2012 from fighting creationism in the schools to defending the teaching of Evolution and Climate Science apparently everywhere. Just last December he joined other skeptics in the earlier referenced CSI petition in requesting that climate deniers not be called “skeptics”.

I’ll end with a link to Skepticality episode 34 where Michael Shermer and James Randi have a long conversation about their skeptical lives. It should not be missed by any of Randi’s fans.

52 thoughts on “James Randi RIP

  1. Randi has always been a pillar of the skeptic community. For some reason this bunch has taken a rigid alarmist view on climate.

    The “Skeptic Community” take a rigid view on everything.They are really just cheerleaders for orthodox science.

    There was a time when they fought for things that involved taking a moderately risky stance. No longer.

    Try running with these various propositions in that community:

    1) Trump is an idiot and a buffoon, but his strictly economic policies are better than Biden’s.

    2) Modern psychiatry is little better than witchcraft.

    3) Intelligence is largely inherited. For that matter, most behaviours are.

    4) We should revert to old-fashioned teaching methods, with strong discipline and teachers that teach directly skills and knowledge.

    I was on the JREF forums at the time Randi made his climate comments. It was disgraceful. For all their talk of scepticism, they keep a rigid line on most matters.

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  2. Chester, there used to be a big bustling skeptic movement. There was JREF, CFI, Skeptiod, Skepchic, NCSE and Michael Shermer’s skeptic.com, which used to have Skepticblog, which I used to enjoy commenting on. They’re still around, but the movement got polarized and fragmented so that it’s now just a shadow of its former self.

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  3. Well here’s a question. Can there ever be such a thing as a ‘sceptic community’ or a ‘sceptic movement’? Scepticism is a mental faculty, an attribute of the human intellect, expressed as an individual’s psychological response to information/data which, let us say, does not have the desired ‘ring of truth’ about it. Initial sceptical impulse is then followed up by formal attempts to verify or discount said information/data. Could that process ever be considered in the context of a group effort? Some would argue yes. I would say no. If you feel the need to identify as a ‘sceptic’ by joining or affiliating to some ‘community’ or organised grouping/society, then are you genuinely sceptical, or are you a conformist? Russ Schussler’s post at Judith’s blog indeed appears to suggest that identifying with a community actually interferes with the proper functioning of scepticism:

    “Within the skeptical community, increasingly after the turn of the century, some began to equate climate doubt with quack beliefs. Randi weighed in with a dissenting posting on AGW in late 2009 where he said “Happily, science does not depend on consensus.” (Click here – It’s worth a read.) A huge outcry erupted and many labelled him a denier or worse such that he posted a follow up “retraction”. At the same time, climate “advocate” Phil Plait was serving as president of Randi’s organization (JREF) and was actively engaged in fund raising efforts which appeared hampered by this inconvenient posting. The Bad Astronomer worked within the skeptical community to “rehabilitate” Randi.”

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  4. Jaime,

    I fully agree with your scepticism regarding the concept of group scepticism. Scepticism is a psychological predisposition of an individual or it is nothing. Take my own position regarding the ONS. I am simultaneously sceptical of their claims and sceptical of my scepticism. But be careful, that way lies madness. If I am not careful, I am going to start hearing sceptical voices in my head.

    You shut up! No, you shut up!. No, you shut up…

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  5. I loved Randi’s on-stage overdose where he studiously reads the instructions on the side of the bottle… “take one per day…” then swallows the entire thing. That got the audience’s attention.

    @ Jaime sceptics are supposed to doubt. That should be everyone’s response to wild pronouncements, including the efficacy of homeopathic remedies or that folk have been abducted by aliens.

    It becomes slightly different when the sceptic is doubtful of pronouncements made by authorities that are supposed to have arrived at the truth by some method like hypothesis – evidence – test – refine – reject. Having had the evidence supplied, the sceptic is “supposed” to come on board. In climate, at least several of us have not. (Personally I think the evidence for climate catastrophe is appallingly weak.) We can be ignored as mavericks and contrarians and even deniers because we are few (are we?) and are disorganised. Despite knowing more (I judge, on the average) than the mass of those agitating for government to do more, despite having highly rational arguments why government should do less, we are not heard. There are no mass membership movements pushing back against net zero.

    Is this for the best? If such clubs existed would they become infested by know-nothings with the wrong motives for wanting the government to back off? Would we find ourselves in bed with all kinds of nutcases?

    The only thing I’m sure of is that we’d be harder to ignore if such a group was lobbying against the worst of the present madness. It’s a shame that organisations that have the chance to do just that are usually to be seen pushing for more, not less, madness.

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  6. I think sceptical groups can exist. They just have to agree to disagree when it comes to the significance of certain types of evidence and the interpretation thereof. The issue, IMO, is politics. The adoption of certain political stances has necessitated a rejection of “agree to disagree”. The group becomes a resource whose influence, such as it is, can be utilized to further political goals.

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  7. JIT, in the long history of bad ideas, I’m not sure if lobby groups have ever had any real influence on getting society or the establisment to jettison those ideas. Geocentrism collapsed under the accumulating weight of contrary scientific evidence. Eugenics collapsed after its disastrous and murderous outing in Nazi Germany. Mao had a great idea: he proposed killing millions of sparrows in order to stop them eating the grain which would feed humans. Chinese ‘experts’ calculated that for every 1 million sparrows killed, there would be enough grain to feed 60,000 people. So they killed the sparrows in their hundreds of millions, only to then discover that sparrows also ate locusts, which then thrived, destroying the crops and so the people starved! AGW and decarbonisation via expansion of and reliance upon renewables as supposedly a ‘solution’ to man-made climate change is a very, very bad idea, but it would seem that it’s an idea which is difficult to fatally shoot down with contrary science and evidence and is very difficult to remove on the basis of political opposition – which leaves us having to wait until it becomes self-evidently a very bad idea. Lockdowns are a very, very bad idea, but they have gained almost universal traction and it would seem that not even thousands of scientists protesting against them has much effect, so we wait for the inevitable tragic consequences of their imposition to become increasingly evident, though science and data have the advantage here in that they are outpacing the lockdown pseudoscience.

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  8. Actually I’ve thought of (sort of) an instance when the powers that be, or were then, changed their minds on climate policy based on a mass movement. The fuel duty escalator was supposed to price people off the roads in the name of climate change & it was opposed in 2000 by the fuel price protesters, who won gov’t concessions.

    There needs to be simmering discontent before anything like that could happen again. And that kinda means the sceptics only win if we all lose because life generally will have to be much worse than now to generate that kind of pushback.

    Who knows. To judge by opinion polls, the public are largely content with lockdowns etc, if anything wanting more; they probably support action on climate change too. We may end up left behind by history, our last words a quiet “I told you so” in a couple of decades when Everything Is Terrible but not because of any climate catastrophe but because of crazy policies to “fight” climate change.

    (Sorry, this has diverged somewhat from the Great Randi.)

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  9. There’s an important division of skepticism, which even skeptic.com doesn’t properly grasp. There is ‘innate skepticism’ (ISk) and ‘rational skepticism’ (RSk), in American spellings. RSk splits into scientific skepticism and philosophical skepticism, but both are (ideally) via rationality.

    ISk occurs via instinctive mechanisms, *and is cultural value dependent*. As Jaime nicely puts this, the contested issue “does not have the desired ‘ring of truth’ about it”. But whether we think this or not, in the absence of issue literacy, is mainly driven by our cultural (and other) biases. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the expressed skepticism is wrong, it may be perfectly right. But this kind of skepticism is not arrived at via rationality, only via the lack of ‘ring’. ISk tends to automatically come in groups, because it will largely align relative to particular cultural stances.

    So for instance in the US, Dem / Lib culture has made a strong alliance with catastrophic climate culture, hence because they culturally oppose the Dem / Libs, most of the US Rep / Con public are skeptical of climate change. Their strong bias against Dem / Libs makes their ISk very sharp, and hence this ISk doesn’t detect the ‘ring of truth’ on the climate issue. Their skepticism is not due to rationality, because rationality needs knowledge, and publics (including all cultural sides) are not climate change literate to any significant degree. The cultural alliance of the Dem / Libs has suppressed their ISk about the same topic; to them it is a comforting alliance narrative. This is a very simple / obvious case, but the ‘rules’ are universally applicable and interesting (plus containing more subtle operation). See the link at the end for details.

    It can be hard to maintain fully RSk, in the sense that biases may leak through. But this is far less likely for a conflict in which the investigator doesn’t have a dog in the fight. OTOH, it’s also true that skepticism which was originally ISK, may be converted, so to speak, to RSk, as an individual gains knowledge and delves into the topic, so getting a rational handle that may verify (or not) the original skepticism. A danger with this route is that, for the initial part of the path at least, Dan Kahan has shown that both greater knowledge and cognitive ability may simply be deployed to *reinforce* what one’s original biases / ISk (which are subconscious) had caused one to conclude. However, this result was only valid to a very limited amount of extra knowledge, which is very far short of ‘expert’. Anyhow, while ISk may sound dodgy because it is not based on rationality, it is critical to oppose alien invading, or local but having got overweening, cultures. It acts as a (natural, evolved) counterweight to cultural dominance. It’s also a vast supply from which conversions to RSk can be made. The bulk of all skepticism in publics across nations is ISk, they are not climate literate.

    I generally agree with those who say RSk does not benefit much from group organisation. Sometimes, it may be necessary in loose form simply because orthodoxy has become intolerable. But generally, the act of making a consensus is a *social* not scientific one, and any such act is an open invitation for cultural dominance to occur. Science shouldn’t need a socially enforced consensus if it is true, because it is simply demonstrable everywhere. As Judith Curry points out, it is a strength not weakness of skeptical thinking that it is ‘all over the map’.

    https://judithcurry.com/2017/02/20/innate-skepticism/

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  10. Andy,

    “As Judith Curry points out, it is a strength not weakness of skeptical thinking that it is ‘all over the map’.”

    Therein lies the value of loosely affiliated groups of people labouring under the general banner of scepticism; not their closeness, but their apartness, each defining a point on the map. The more points on the map, the clearer becomes the map and what we desperately need at this very critical point in the history of humanity is to clearly see the map.

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  11. I think we’ve passed the crest of a skeptical movement that has a couple of important aspects. The first is that skepticism gained a sort of cultural cachet. Just like how the professor on Gilligan’s Island inspired a lot of kids to go into science, I think Lisa Simpson and Dana Skully from the X-Files had a similar effect in inspiring people to want to be skeptical. The other aspect is that the skeptical movement brought in a deference to experts. A lot of organized skepticism involved debunking fringe ideas against mainstream experts. This eventually devolved into marginalizing debate. I think the battles over evolution had a lot to do with this. Eugenie Scott (founder of NCSE) coined the term Gish gallop. Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Dawkins agreed not to publicly debate prominent creationists.

    My hope is that the public can develop a healthy skepticism of big educational institutions. We need to get Judith Curry and Steve McIntyre into the popular culture.

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  12. I think the UFO field is very illustrative. It sort of gained respectability with Dr. J Allen Hynek and culminated with the movie, Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Then it devolved with alien abductions and the Roswell conspiracies. I want to make clear that I think UFOs have been pretty much entirely debunked, although I think they’ve added a lot to our culture and inspired a lot of interest in science.

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  13. Response to Alan @ 12.15pm. re joining the club…

    ‘Not only sands and gravels
    Were once more on their travels,
    But gulping muddy gallons
    Great boulders off their balance
    Bumped heads together dully
    And started down the gully.
    Whole capes caked off in slices.
    I felt my standpoint shaken
    In the universal crisis.
    But with one step backward taken
    I saved myself from going.
    A world torn loose went by me.
    Then the rain stopped and the blowing,
    And the sun came out to dry me.’

    One step backward. Taken.Robert Frost

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  14. A calmer version Beth

    Longshore Drift

    The tide incame
    Pebbles roll up the beach
    But the sea will not relinquish its hold
    And remnants of the despairing wave
    Return sheepishly, pebbles in tow
    Yet all was not as before
    Pebbles had a new homestead
    Until the next wave they briefly rest
    Then resume their next undulation
    Shifts of venue innumerable
    Are wearing to pebbles

    Tomorrow waves might have a different slant
    So all travel today might be undone
    As pebbles revisit old haunts
    Ever so slightly smaller and more rounded.

    Singer beneath Bridges

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  15. Mike,

    “I think the UFO field is very illustrative. It sort of gained respectability with Dr. J Allen Hynek and culminated with the movie, Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Then it devolved with alien abductions and the Roswell conspiracies. I want to make clear that I think UFOs have been pretty much entirely debunked, although I think they’ve added a lot to our culture and inspired a lot of interest in science.”

    I think what happened is that the UFO culture – a child of the post war era which grew naturally into the spaced out 60s and 70s – was subsumed by the hard edged 80s, by Thatcher and Reagan, by the almost universal pursuit of money and property, then became lost altogether in the culturally nihilist noughties. As hippy and UFO culture faded, a new obsession emerged at the end of the 1970s – catastrophic global warming, which took off in the 1980s, given a boost by none other than Thatcher herself. UFO mythology faded back into the public’s unconscious, its last major outing being the extraordinary (and as yet still not fully explained) events at Rendlesham Forest in 1980.

    But the events themselves remained and still continue to this day, with documented sightings of objects which apparently defy the known laws of physics, which go largely ignored by the media and by the majority. As I say, the culture was subsumed but it did not disappear. It was immensely powerful at one point and expressed something very fundamental about the human psyche and maybe even about reality. My gut instinct tells me that it will probably re-emerge soon in a rather dramatic and unexpected fashion.

    There are just a few (not mutually exclusive) explanations for the UFO phenomenon: it was a massive global hoax and/or a case of mass delusion, it was in fact evidence of alien beings, it is evidence of still unexplained natural atmospheric phenomena, or it is evidence that human beings have acquired technology and a form of propulsion which is not explained by known physics and which has been kept secret from society for whatever reason.

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  16. Jaime, “and/or a case of mass delusion”

    A long while back, I saw a map of UFO sightings in Christian countries, on which was also mapped the sightings of religious statues (I think usually the virgin Mary) crying tears or blood. The former sightings were far higher in Protestant countries, the latter sightings far higher in Catholic countries, and mixed in mixed countries. In some cases there were quite sharp boundaries. Seemed extremely unlikely to me that aliens from distant worlds would mostly be targeting their appearance for first contact / repairs / refuelling / human specimen grabs or whatever they’re here for, in Protestant areas! At that date the phenomenon of UFO belief was mostly a feature of Protestant (and typically less religious) areas, whereas the older phenomenon of religiously orientated mystery sightings, still ruled the roost in Catholic (and typically more religious) areas. I just spent 10 minutes searching the Internet in vain for this map, but it was long ago (I don’t even remember when) and may no longer exist. Plus there’s far more maps out there generating search hits to wade through. I doubt there’s a modern equivalent, but if so I presume the level of each phenomena will have evolved in both areas.

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  17. Jaime,

    I’m afraid writers like Carl Sagan and Martin Gardner have beaten all the credulity that I had over UFOs out of me.

    I certainly don’t discount the possibility of extraterrestrial life, even intelligent life that is inconspicuously keeping tabs on us. The skeptical writers have gone over ‘the field’ with a fine tooth comb. Like I said, I can’t recommend James Moseley’s book too highly:

    https://reason.com/2012/11/20/james-w-moseley-rip/

    I still think ufology has a lot of potential to teach us about climatechangeology. People can have popular misconceptions like that solar PV is going to power modern civilization. There’s the popular perception that aliens will have big heads with big brains. Would this really be correct? We don’t have bigger computers with bigger circuits. Perhaps smaller denser brains would allow nerve impulses to travel faster. I still haven’t seen an adequate explanation of this photo that was in a magazine that was included in that big rummage sale box of UFO books that my mom got for me:

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  18. Mike, all I’m saying is it’s not a case of whether there do exist Little Green Men who visit earth, whether sightings have been hoaxed (a great many undoubtedly have), whether genuine observers have been fooled into thinking they have seen something inexplicable which is in fact perfectly explained (it happens) or whether there has been a culture of mass hysteria and delusion around the whole subject of UFOs in general (there probably has). Once you’ve eliminated all those things there remains a hard core of inexplicable observations/events (often physical events, backed up by physical evidence in the form of radar traces, video etc.) which defy all rational explanation. These real, tangible phenomena continue to this very day.

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  19. MIKE

    I think UFOs have been pretty much entirely debunked

    I’m afraid writers like Carl Sagan and Martin Gardner have beaten all the credulity that I had over UFOs out of me.

    Really? How does that work? Unless you refuse to accept the possibility of life evolving elsewhere in the universe, you have to accept the possibility that life maybe evolved a bit earlier somewhere else. Let’s say 10% earlier? That gives some other civilisation somewhere in the galaxy a 300 million year head start on us. Who’s to say UFOs aren’t frisbies given as Christmas presents to kids from the other side of the galaxy which have strayed over the garden fence, so to speak?

    ANDY’s point on Protestant saucers versus Catholic visions of the Virgin Mary is interesting. It takes a diet of sci fi mags to see saucer shaped objects, or a diet of pious images to see the Mother of God. How many other extraterrestrial objects are hovering above our heads that we can’t see because they haven’t been imagined yet?

    To nail my colours to the mast, and my articles to the door, I’m also a big fan of dowsing, homeopathy, Halston Arp’s theory of red shift, Wal Thornhill on the electric plasma theory (have you taken a look at those meteorites/comets shaped like sausage ballon dogs?) and Gunnar Heinsohn’s radical rewriting of ancient chronology. (Herodotos knew about Cheops’ pyramid because his informants were talking about events a couple of centuries ago.)

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  20. There was a great change in the skeptic movement
    It used to be great, THE OLD TIMERS would go right to the bare bones science
    an then would be able to DEBUNK woo ..give a long explanation ..and finish “so that makes you an idiot”
    The new kids came in and loved the last bit
    but what they did was try to use the Argument from Authority to go say “look the Big Men say you are wrong so that makes you an idiot”
    I noticed the big change on Climate in 2005 in Adelaide I went to the skeptics and Humanists meeting
    I was staggered to hear the old timers leading the Humanists say “All these people believe in supreme beings instead of science.. but there is really important thing Global Warming ”
    and I thought that is weird you are making it a FAITH thing ..ie it is a religion !
    I gave a lecture at the skeptics meeting in Tallin Estonia and was able to get over that there was a problem with people using the Argument from Authority.
    But later in Honk Kong and then Taiwan I saw the Alarmists had taken a firm grip
    The owner of the Science City bar where they met in Taichung Taiwan was a big member
    and he got to give a lecture from the climate skeptic.. most of the committee was furious and started rigourous censorship of the discussion on the Facebook page.

    Now why didn’t Randi follow through ? If you watch the biography film it has a bizarre twist at the end.
    The great straight thinker and leader had broken the law big time .. he had got his much younger gay partner forged papers for the US , essentially he was married to an illegal immigrant who was using a dead person’s papers. Insiders like Plait would have known this so would have leverage over Randi
    and Randi being very old wouldn’t have been able to resist.
    Still many skeptics in the forums like SGU kept to the old straight thinking on Global Warming
    but the establishments got more and more taken over by political liberals who closed more and more
    Until about 8 years ago I noticed the once busy forums were closing
    JREF’s forum closed, the UK forum closed.

    I looked at the Twitter of a great old skeptic leader the other day it was horrible . He lives in Guardianland so his tweets were full of HATE for Trump, Hate for Brexit, Hate For Farage etc.

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  21. Geoff most non-skeptic stuff like UFOs, water diving etc is 2+2=5 thinking
    There’s been nothing new in UFOs for 50 years, EXCEPT last week
    long time ago 1990 in Scotland there was an event in Scotland where 2 observers took good COLOUR photos of UFOs being guided by British military planes
    but a publication ban was slapped on it.
    Now this year was the end of the ban so everyone was expecting the photos to be released with a simple explanation like that the UFOs were really weather balloons etc
    but no for some strange reason the ban has been extended another 50 years.
    A lot of media covered it, this quick page has links to The Sun item
    https://hotair.com/archives/jazz-shaw/2020/10/10/british-mod-buries-ufo-dossier-another-50-years/

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  22. Since the discussion has ventured into the UFO territory, my thoughts turned to crop circles. These were all the rage in the U.K. in the 1980s and I purchased a book on them just before returning to the U.K. in 1989. But I had heard nothing about them for more than a decade. Imagine my surprise upon consulting Google to find them in all their glory being reported, photographed and visited in Wiltshire in 2020 (ukcropcircles.co.uk) They still present puzzles. I recall seeing a television programme where circles were constructed using wooden contraptions to flatten the plants, but failed to explain how access to the site of the future crop circle was accomplished without leaving traces.

    I have a particular connection to crop circles. In planning what to teach at UEA I had thought to hold a seminar upon the subject to show how the scientific method could be employed. Unfortunately I was persuaded by my wife not to do this.

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  23. Wow, Stew, that’s pretty damning isn’t it. Why classify a report for another 50 years unless you have something you really want to hide? The object existed, it cannot be denied; it was photographed. We have the testimony of the witnesses who took those photos that it appeared to have a system of propulsion not known in 1990 and still not technologically feasible in 2020. Therefore either it was a craft developed by an alien civilisation or it was developed by our civilsation whose technological achievenments are well in advance of what is admitted to the public. If there were some more mundane explanation for the sighting, surely the MOD would have released the report without further ado? The only other possibility is that there is a mundane explanation but the MOD wish to give the impression that there is not, thereby contributing to an ongoing public misinformation campaign by the authorities, deliberately promoting confusion and conspiracy theories around the subject of UFOs. But why? What purpose would that serve? It would, in effect, constitute a government conspiracy to create and maintain a group of conspiracy theorists! Crazy. But we do live in very crazy times, so who knows.

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  24. When SI folded I unsubscribed.
    Forcing the amazing Randi to kowtow to obvious bullshit was one of the first hints I had that climate madness was a pernicious and destructive movement.

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  25. “…it was photographed.”

    Maybe, but not necessarily upon the evidence of the image shown. Look at the gross edge effects and pixelation around the UFO and even worse around the jet. If this is from the image enhancement or coloration then it’s the poorest job imaginable. Being from a high resolution film (or print thereof) the original would not have had this. A copy may or may not (see below). The image is almost certainly from film as ‘mass market’ digi cameras only took off around 1995, and even the first one for photo nerds or journalists in actual shops was about 1991, says the web. My company used to do a lot of graphics products, including image manipulation and real-time tracking of objects for the military market. This is what objects look like if they’ve been very poorly (or very old technology) plonked onto the background, with crude manual or very blunt blending algorithm. The copy of the original hi-res could be on a very low-res digi device, introducing such issues. But enhancement algorithms know how to counter this (it’s part of what enhancement means!)

    Despite the image quality, any military expert would easily be able to identify the jet, and hence it’s likely origin. Even to my untrained eye, this looks extremely like a Harrier jump-jet. The Harriers have a long history of service, and have shape / feature modifications for different models, some of which were exported to allies (the US marines were big users, and would still be so in 1990). This one looks very like a GR3, which was an RAF main fighter of the time. My company supplied some electronics to same, and I even talked to a pilot of one (during a design review). I can’t find a picture of one flying at the same angle as the photo, but amplify the image and compare this to the GR3 profile at the link below, They have a very distinctive drop from the quick sticky-up canopy to a thin short nose. The shoulder of the nearside wing doesn’t look right, but that could be the quality so poor and there’s whist pixels on the wing meaning possible reflection. The shoulder on the far side wing looks right (and they are not going to be asymmetrical!)

    I guess no-one is going to know about the incident until all the older ones amongst us are long dead. But that image is not actual evidence of the existence of hi-res photos. And the narrative that folks have no idea about the jets makes no sense at all, particularly if there *were* hi-res images.

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  26. @ Andy

    “A few years ago I teamed up with a graphic artist in Los Angeles and we reconstructed the photo for a TV show, using the line drawing and my memory as a guide. The result was spot-on, but it’s still not the real thing.”

    Presumably the photo is a mock up (?you are referring to the hotair one?)

    Perhaps the story has been buried again out of potential embarrassment that the MOD gave it a moment’s credence?

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  27. “The copy of the original hi-res could be on a very low-res digi device, introducing such issues. But enhancement algorithms know how to counter this (it’s part of what enhancement means!)”

    …and some features on the landscape look better resolution.

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  28. JIT, the text you quote is not in the hotair article. The article says this: “The original photos are lost except to the MoD, but a blurry, poorer quality version of one of them has been enhanced and colorized with the help of Nick Pope.”

    A ‘poorer quality version’ is (probably deliberately) ambiguously worded, but implies a copy, not a mock-up. If it was a mock-up, that would explain the features (and indeed even as a mock-up, it is extremely poor, not ‘spot on’). But then of course a mock-up may represent jack-shit! For instance the jet could be any random model. But whatever model the original had, on a supposedly hi-res image, it would easily be identifiable at anything approaching that size. An expert could easily identify this one even on such a shonky image, whether or not I correctly did. So could a modern computer targeting system. If Pope could identify it (if he didn’t know a Harrier he shouldn’t have been in the service), would he not put the same model in the mock-up? If he didn’t do this, why the dishonesty? For an unknown model he could put something close to the right shape, and say what could be ruled out (including a Harrier!) All highly dodgy; especially implying it’s *not* a mock-up if it is; just a con act to get people to trust their own eyes.

    Pope seems to make a good living off UFOism, no doubt leveraging the credibility of 3 years with non-combat function in the RAF. But as far as I recall, it’s been MoD policy for about a decade to say ‘no comment’ to every inquiry related to UFOs, no matter what it is and who it’s from. So how do we even know the supposed photos are suppressed for decades more? If this was perfectly true, the MoD would say ‘no comment’. If they never existed, the MoD would still say ‘no comment’ (in the past they’ve been damned if they say anything and damned if they don’t, I guess they settled on the latter). A very cursory 3 min google suggests that the only ones who are promoting the story are Pope himself, and the Sun. As is usual with UFO stories, all prior copies of the photos (I think one link said including in a local newspaper), mysteriously disappeared. Well, there’s a thing.

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  29. JIT, “Perhaps the story has been buried again out of potential embarrassment that the MOD gave it a moment’s credence?”

    Certainly one possibility.

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  30. P.S. the issue with ‘a lot of media’ is that, for the links I picked at least, they all point back to Pope or the Sun, even competitive papers like the Mirror. Some sources have an image that looks initially better than the hotair one, but if you grab them and blow them up, it’s essentially the same, with the same issues. I guess represents minor differences in the production process of each source-to-web imaging.

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  31. Andy, burying a story for another 50 years seems a bit of an extreme measure by the MOD to avoid admitting that they were fooled by some UFO photos 30 years sgo. Don’t you think?

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  32. Hell in the USA, American Civil Liberties Union now supports, at least implicitly, censorship.So The Amazing Randi, and his formerly Amazing Magazine, caving in on consensus based anti-scientific crap is just a bump on the road paved with such good intentions.
    That said, The Amazing Randi was a wonderful voice for reason and liberty for much of his life.
    May he RIP.

    Liked by 1 person

  33. Jaime; “Andy, burying a story for another 50 years seems a bit of an extreme measure by the MOD to avoid admitting that they were fooled by some UFO photos 30 years sgo. Don’t you think?”

    If you can show via any original government source (and not Pope or the Sun, or the other media that merely point to them), that a) anything actually is being buried for another 50 years, and b) if so, there was ever official acknowledgement that such photos existed in the first place as part of the events, i.e. outside of Pope’s say-so, that would be a great start. However…

    Ultimately, I haven’t a clue what happened, or where the story is on the scale of completely true to completely false, or wherever in-between. I just note that this narrative and this ‘photo’ (if per JIT and ‘mock-up’ it even is one), is inconsistent in itself and also provides no any evidence whatsoever for the UFO claims or even the hi-res photos of same. We may not be able to form a conclusion, but we should always look objectively at what the data (in this case the article and associate image) tell us, wherever this may lead to eventually.

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  34. Geoff:

    MIKE

    I think UFOs have been pretty much entirely debunked

    I’m afraid writers like Carl Sagan and Martin Gardner have beaten all the credulity that I had over UFOs out of me.

    Really? How does that work?

    Well, you read up on a subject that makes you feel smart, enlightened, giving your life new meaning and you go and check out what some revered writer thinks about it and he steps on it and squashes it.

    Matt Ridley has an example in his Angus Miller lecture:

    I was not always such a “lukewarmer”. In the mid 2000s one image in particular played a big role in making me abandon my doubts about dangerous man-made climate change: the hockey stick*. It clearly showed that something unprecedented was happening. I can remember where I first saw it at a conference and how I thought: aha, now there at last is some really clear data showing that today’s temperatures are unprecedented in both magnitude and rate of change – and it has been published in Nature magazine.

    Yet it has been utterly debunked by the work of Steve McIntyre and Ross McKitrick. I urge you to read Andrew Montford’s careful and highly readable book The Hockey Stick Illusion*. Here is not the place to go into detail, but briefly the problem is both mathematical and empirical. The graph relies heavily on some flawed data – strip-bark tree rings from bristlecone pines — and on a particular method of principal component analysis, called short centering, that heavily weights any hockey-stick shaped sample at the expense of any other sample. When I say heavily – I mean 390 times.

    This had a big impact on me. This was the moment somebody told me they had made the crop circle the night before.

    https://wattsupwiththat.com/2011/11/01/thank-you-matt-ridley/

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  35. https://obscurantist.com/oma/barker-gray/

    Gray Barker’s poem, UFO Is A Bucket Of Shit:

    UFO is a bucket of shit
    Its followers: perverts, monomaniacs, dipsomaniacs
    Artists of the fast buck
    True believers, objective believers, new age believers
    Keyhoe believers

    Shushed by the three men
    Or masturbated by space men

    UFO is a bucket of shit

    The A.F. investigated UFOs
    And issued a report
    Couched in polite language
    Which translated, means:

    “UFO is a bucket of shit”

    Meade Layne is a bucket of shit
    Lex Mebane is a bucket of shit
    James W. Moseley is a bucket of shit
    Richard Ogden is a bucket of shit
    Ray Palmer is a bucket of shit

    And I sit here writing
    While the shit drips down my face
    In great rivulets

    Like

  36. I’ve been reluctant to join in the UFO debate since I would not wish to give the likes of Lewandowsky any encouragement. And, besides which, this is not the Fortean Times. However, since the Calvine picture is proving to be a source of some discussion, I thought it would be remiss of me not to point out the following.

    Yes that is a Harrier. But if the RAF had wished in 1990 to challenge an unidentified intruder encroaching on UK airspace they would have called upon supersonic Tornado ADV interceptors on Quick Reaction Alert (QRA), as posted just down the road at RAF Leuchars. They would not be calling upon a decidedly subsonic mud-mover like the Harrier, posted several hundred miles away at RAF Wittering in leafy Cambridgeshire.

    Liked by 2 people

  37. John, this guy seems to have dug into the Harrier question in detail. Although he points out there were no Harriers in the area on 4 Aug 1990, he does say there were plenty of training flights around that time (the Gulf War commenced on Aug 2, 1990, 2 days before the sighting was reported by the Scottish Herald), so it’s conceivable that the Harrier may have been on low level flying operations from 4 squadron, based in Gutersloh, Germany, meaning that the actual sighting may have taken place a few days before Aug 4th. It also suggests the possibility that the aircraft was already in flight at the time of the sighting, i.e not scrambled to intercept, and its appearance may be coincidental, or not. He comes up with a list of possible explanations for the sighting:

    List of possible explanations
    1. This is an unidentified man made aircraft, possibly secret. It might even be a smaller unmanned aircraft close to the camera. Nick Pope has been clear that he was told that it was neither Russian or American, but given the secrecy they may not have told him. In this scenario the presence of the Harrier is purely coincidental. Both might have flown through the same low flying area from different locations (Edzell and Leuchars). I would give this explanation a 50% probability.

    2. Hoax. The photographer could have hoaxed the photograph. Nick Pope saw a copy of it and it seemed real to him. The MoD also analysed it and felt it was genuine. When the Daily Record did not run the story the photographer did not go elsewhere for publicity which is something a hoaxer would surely have done? I can’t rule out a total hoax, but it does not seem very likely, maybe 35% probability.

    3. Disinformation. I know, I know, I know. I am not a conspiracy nut, but during a war it might have been necessary to pass off some sightings as “little green men” rather than disclose their real purpose. The photographers have never come forward, but if it was government disinformation it would not have been referred for MoD investigation. I think this explanation is probably 25% probability.

    4. A real anomalous aircraft or UFO. This is entirely possible and I would put it at 50% probability.

    http://www.ecalpemos.org/2018/01/the-calvine-ufo-incident.html

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  38. Per JIT’s quote from the Scottish Sun supposedly from Pope himself, the ‘photo’ is merely a mock-up. So very bad for sources such as hotair to say: “The original photos are lost except to the MoD, but a blurry, poorer quality version of one of them has been enhanced and colorized with the help of Nick Pope.” So implying actual evidence / copy, albeit poorer quality. Nor does the mock-up remotely represent lighting conditions 14 minutes before sunset (Aberdeen time), which I then see the ecalpemos link points out too, plus indeed why walkers up there who would have to come back in the dark. Unless exactly in the right direction for a very low sun, the images would be virtually black, or else the supposed time of photo is nonsense. Interesting how there’s always such a maze of inconsistencies around UFO stories, probably enhanced by emotively self-selecting narratives; this keeps circulation going 🙂

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  39. Jaime,

    Of course, you are right. Harrier jets engaged in low level flight training were a common sight in Scotland, so an accidental military encounter would be a possibility. The only problem is that this isn’t the best UFO encounter narrative. No self-respecting UFO story would be complete without the scrambled jets 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  40. People see unidentified flying objects all the time. It’s tough to identify things in the sky. In fact, some things readily identifiable will appear to exhibit inexplicable characteristics due to any number of optical phenomena. The leap from their inability to identify what they are seeing to the object being extraterrestrial is what is,,,what, questionable?

    I have seen two in my life, the first of which was ultimately plausibly explained. It was an electric blue point of light with a smoke trail, high above the clouds, and seen by tens of thousands of St. Louis residents (I was one, attending the outdoor high school graduation of my sister). Newspapers carried the story, and reported that an Air Force spokesmen said it was a satellite coming back into the Earth’s atmosphere. I was skeptical, knowing that it was travelling east to west – a retrograde satellite, which, in 1968, was supposedly impossible. Decades later, a colleague of mine from General Dynamics told me that in the mid-1960s, the Air Force had launched an Atlas into orbit due-west from Vandenberg AFB, just to show the Soviets we could do it. The launch was classified at the time (from us, but obviously not the Soviets). That would have fit the timeline.

    The second was when I lived in Abingdon, Maryland, around 2011. It was night, and I was on a cell call when my wife came in from the front yard and excitedly tried to get my attention. When I finally got off the call, she told me that a huge “thing” had flown over the house, and was still out there. Looking out the front door, I saw a huge assembly of lights in the sky, outlining the object to which they were attached, but not defining it. It was thousands of feet behind the houses across the street from us, but appeared much larger than they did. And it slowly descended out of sight behind the tree line, never making any sound at all.

    I worked at the FAA at the time, and told my deputy associate administrator what I had seen. I asked if he could find out from ATO (Air Traffic Organization) or anyone else what this thing was. He didn’t blow it off, and it took him a couple of days. But he made a point of coming back to me and saying: “No one will tell me anything.” That was different from “no one knows.”

    Abingdon Maryland is very close to Aberdeen Proving Grounds, a US military ordnance test facility. I’m guessing that the big thing was some US experimental lighter than air craft, perhaps electrically powered (given that it made no noise travelling directly over our house at low altitude). The US had some programs of that type, but none in operation (in the clear) at that time. When I was at DARPA, I learned of some unconventional air vehicle programs, but nothing quite like that At least nothing that was still flying in 2011. That’s just from what I was exposed to, though, which wasn’t the entirety of DARPA’s portfolio. I saw enough to conclude that there were probably things flying around out there on military research programs that would explain almost anything. (The rest could be explained by dry cleaning bags filled with marsh gas.)

    Having had that experience, I really don’t think we’ve ever been visited by ETs. It’s just too unlikely.

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  41. Michael, the existence of ‘experimental’ propulsion systems kept top secret for many years by governments does seem a rather more plausible explanation for a number of particularly puzzling UFO sightings which still defy rational explanation. That being the case, it implies that human aviation technology is advanced well beyond what the public have been led to believe. Taking it a bit further, this may mean that exploitation of energy in order to power such craft is also highly advanced and this may have far-reaching implications for our energy use in general. Greens however – and world governments – insist that we must rapidly decarbonise using mediaeval technology in order to save the planet from Thermageddon. What are we missing?

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  42. Pingback: Check Out my Posts at Cliscep | Canman

  43. My wife and I spent quite a bit of time with Randi at one of Dragon Con meetings. I was a big admirer of his work and in person we both found him to be a delight and joy to be around.

    I always thought my posting on “Skeptics” at Judith’s blog did not work well for most readers. Many Climate skeptics didn’t understand the skeptic movement well enough to appreciate what I was talking about. Overwhelmingly people identifying with the skeptic movement who found the blog, seemed defensive and offended by the post such that they could not accept much of anything I said. I very much appreciate your kind words and the discussion around the topic here.

    Planning Engineer

    Liked by 3 people

  44. Hey Andy, Not a coincidence. I just found your posting today. It grabbed my attention and my first reading is favorable. Some very good stuff there. I want to give it a deeper reading (not on my IPad) with a firmer grasp of how the variables are operationalized and paying closer attention to what’s going on in the charts. I remember some of your earlier postings which were good as well. I was Googling you because I found your work interesting and was curious about your background. With some key words added to the search I found this posting. We’ve got some commonalities outside energy. Before getting my engineering degree I almost finished a PHD in Pol. Sci where I did a few studies on attitude constraint using international data bases. I came to the table late, sorry I missed the opportunity in school, but I have about 30 years with Evolution as my passionate hobby.

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