Sunday, September 25, 2016

UFOs: An anfractuous phenomenon - part 3

UFOs: An anfractuous phenomenon
Keith Basterfield

I recently presented this talk to UFO Research (NSW). They have uploaded it to YouTube. You will find it at:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S2kt0_gPZkc


B3: Now to take a look at my own methodology

  • Perhaps the most important single thing to me, is that although the witness owns the story, it is the investigator who extracts the data, e.g. compass directions, angular size; angular velocity. The investigator then reconstructs the event, based on the data gathered from the witness. In some cases the investigator and the witness may never agree as to the cause of the sighting
Interviewing witnesses
I attempt to locate additional witnesses, eg an appeal in the media, by conducting a doorknock, or by using Facebook. Independent observations may triangulate the path of an object
  • USAF Project Blue Book consultant Allan Hynek wrote two things which I always remember:

“The problem is compounded by the fact that most UFO reports are frustrating in the extreme. They contain so few facts.”

and

“In terms of scientific study, the only significant UFO reports are…UFO reports that remain puzzling after competent investigation has been conducted.”

  • I am analytical- I attempt first to find a conventional explanation for the event. When I can’t do this, then the report becomes interesting
  • Contrary to what some people may think, I actually enter the investigation of any sighting with no bias – I have no-preconception of the outcome of any particular observation – I follow the evidence to deduce a cause for the sighting
  • I offer out of the square thinking in some cases
  • I examine every avenue – I try and locate witnesses today, to see if they still hold any original documentation, eg. notebook, diary
  • I look to locate original ufo group documentation – eg Journals, Newsletters, magazines, and particularly recorded original interviews between witness and investigator. For example, I recently located a copy of the original audio interview of Maureen Puddy, who reported two major sightings which I cannot explain, near Frankston, Victoria
A rare copy of the Australian UFO Report
After my investigation, I look to put forward an hypothesis, as to the cause of the sighting for discussion, peer review, and debate. Remember that an hypothesis is merely that, an idea, not a definitive statement.

Paul Dean and I did this with the 11 May 2015 sighting at Blue haven, New South Wales. A witness sighted an unusual object at 2pm. It was hovering over power lines. We hypothesised that the object may have been a helicopter. The use of the WebTrak aircraft tracking website found that there was indeed a helicopter travelling along the coastline northwards in the direction of Blue Haven.
The blue cross is a helicopter heading north
On 29 May 2015 a Townsville resident reported seeing three oval/circles of light in clouds. My hypothesis was that the lights were searchlights.
One of the Townsville photographs

On 23 August 2015, a woman driving through Point Cook in Melbourne, reported a strange shiny, ring like object, in the sky. Weather data suggested it was wind borne debris of some kind.

Bureau of Meteorology weather data
Sometimes, other people agree with your hypothesis, sometimes other people disagree. This is all part of the peer review process which the scientific approach uses.

To summarise my methodology. All in all, my process is collection, collation, interpretation, dissemination, and debate.


SECTION C:  THE LAST TWELVE MONTHS OF SIGHTINGS LISTINGS

The next section of my talk, themed investigations, is to take a look at raw data from Australia.

At the September 2014 VUFOA conference, I suggested that we needed to compile Australian national level sighting reports and take a look at them to see what the big picture was. Paul Dean and I took up the challenge and for the last 12 months, with the assistance of Australian UFO groups and individuals have been compiling and widely publishing monthly listings of Australian reports.
An example of the listings
When publishing the listings, Paul and I deliberately made no effort to assign a possible interpretation as to the case of each report. However, I have now been through the listings recently and made my own rough assessment of the several hundred or so individual reports, over the last 12 months.

As has been shown time and time again, many of our several hundred raw reports are explainable in conventional terms. We have observations of satellites; planets; wind borne debris; computer generated fake images; Venus and Jupiter; fireballs; aircraft; sundogs  etc etc.

On the negative side, much of the material and particularly that coming in via Youtube and other social media, is of little value to the serious study of UFOs, because no one analyses it!

On the positive side, the more interesting reports, as for many years, continue to come from rural and isolated areas.

For example,

In February 2014, a lone yachtsman off the coast of Tasmania, reported seeing a white to gray coloured, cigar shaped object, with associated lights, near his boat. The object moved away and was lost to view into a cloud.
The Tasmanian sailor's report
However, some of the more apparently spectacular reports cannot be followed up as the witness did not provide contact details.

For example, in November 2014, a man reported that an egg shaped object fell from the sky and impacted the ground in Queensland. He said that three fire trucks turned up to fight the resultant fire. He did not leave any contact details. It remains to be seen whether or not this was a genuine report or a hoax.

There are other seemingly interesting reports which lie in the US MUFON database, but come from Australia. As these reports, when investigated, go to MUFON in America, we are not able to judge their value to us.
Sample page from the MUFON CMS
SECTION D: A PATH TO THE FUTURE

In the final part of my talk I would like to explore a number of areas concerning the theme of investigations and make some observations, and recommendations for the future.

Firstly, electronic databases.

There are a number of civilian UFO groups, both here in Australia and overseas who use electronic databases to collect details of raw observations from the general public. The raw content of each report is usually able to be accessed by anyone, excluding witness details. You can even open submitted photographs and videos on some databases.

What I have noticed,  is that local and overseas researchers who publish blogs and have websites, often extract these raw sightings from such databases and publish them within a day or two of the witness submitting the raw report. They do so, almost invariably without checking any facts about the event, even whether or not it seems a hoax. This is unfortunate, for if later on, a competent investigation determines a mundane cause for the event; this fact is often lost. The original, often distorted version of the event is out there in cyber space.

Besides a later finding of a possible mundane cause for the event, there is also the possibility of a hoax. It is all too easy with a few key strokes, to report a spectacular hoax case to these databases.

I suspect, on the basis of 100% knowing that some recent Australian database reported events were definitely hoaxes, that there are more hoaxed cases in databases than we would care to admit. And no, I haven’t been the one who has been submitting these hoaxes!

I would recommend that we discontinue placing raw reports in publicly available databases.

As regards the national monthly listings, I recently conducted a survey of the three dozen individuals who receive them directly. I asked questions such as, are the listings of value to people? The consistent answer was yes they are. I asked should we report only investigated reports. The answer was people would like to see raw as well as investigated reports, if Paul and I have the time to continue gathering all these.

Secondly, the Australian national level sightings reports listings have clearly shown that today, Australian UFO groups and individual researchers are more likely to publish sightings on their website in raw, rather than investigated form. It is clearly less labour intensive to simply repeat what a witness reports than to spend time investigating it. In my view,

We seem to have lost the desire to actively investigate incoming reports.

Perhaps we should not expect a UFO group, which has been in existence for decades, to investigate reports anymore. After all, if they know that the UFO phenomenon is due to extra-terrestrial visitation, why would they investigate new reports? But if so, following this logic, why do such groups still collect any reports? Why do they bother?

I would recommend that each Australian group needs to have an investigation cell, whose job it is to follow up incoming sightings, investigate and document them, and then publish full investigation reports. Few Australian groups are doing this today. Indeed we have no UFO group in the whole of Western Australia.

Thirdly, notwithstanding that you publish cases in your own group’s newsletter, blog or magazine,

I would recommend that you also submit full investigation reports to Rob Frola at the UFOlogist magazine.

This would provide you with a broader outlet for your material.

Fourthly, as to scientific consultants. As I mentioned earlier, years ago, most Australian groups each had a number of scientific consultants in fields such as astronomy, physics and meteorology. Today there are almost none of these consultants. I would recommend that we need a national pool of such consultants, accessible to all Australian groups and serious individuals.

I would recommend that a discussion commence among groups to prepare a list of such consultants which we already have, and to seek new ones. I would also recommend that all investigated and documented unknown cases, be submitted to such a panel, for peer review before publication.

Fifthly, as happened in the 1970’s through to the 2000’s, the Australian monthly reports listings have shown that the more interesting cases come from rural and regional Australia. However, most UFO groups here that I have spoken to, have lost their contacts in these areas.

I recommend that groups, initiate a media campaign in rural and regional Australia seeking witnesses to sightings, to come forward and report them to us.

Finally, I would urge MUFON in the US to make available to the general research community in Australia, MUFON’s investigated Australian cases. Today, some Australian cases are looked at in this country but fed back to the US, where they are not available to anyone not associated with MUFON.

I would recommend that MUFON’s current Australian national director take up this issue with MUFON Headquarters in the US and advise us of the outcome.

 IN SUMMARY:

There is clearly a wide spectrum of belief systems in the Australian UFO research community, and this is clearly reflected on what you can find on the Internet.  

On a recent count, I found 38 Australian Facebook pages, discussing in part, Australian UFO sightings. Most spent hardly any time on analysing and investigating these reports. A fact I find discouraging for serious research into the phenomenon.

I put myself squarely in the scientific ufology end of the spectrum. I believe in evidence based research, no matter what conclusion this leads you towards.

While I respect the views of others who sit at other places on the spectrum, I don’t necessarily have to agree with these views.

In closing, let me return to my use of the word anfractuous in the title of this talk.

The UFO phenomenon, and research in to it, is full of twists and turns. I think this is nicely summed up by a quote by US researcher John B Alexander who said:

Front cover of Alexander's book
 “I conclude that the UFO observations are manifestations of issues that are anfractuous and beyond current comprehension.”

To which I would add, perhaps beyond current comprehension, but that doesn’t mean that we should give up trying to understand in the future.  

2016 update

I gave this talk in 2016 to UFO Research (NSW) Incorporated. You may watch it at:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S2kt0_gPZkc

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