Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Ufology - "One Way forward": use the approach of science

Debunking Skeptics (CSICOP & the Australian Skeptics for example) would do well to read Edward Ashpole's new book "Signatures of Life - Science searches the Universe".  So would the UFO "true believers."  For the benefit of the latter it is easily to acquire via Amazon even as an e-book on Kindle. Skeptics should find it even easier - it has been published by their favoured publishing House - Prometheus Books.
From the publishers:

Informative and fascinating, this book delves into the topic of extraterrestrial life in a thought-provoking yet scientifically responsible way. Are we alone in the universe, or is life a universal phenomenon? For fifty years, astronomers in SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) have scanned the universe for intelligent signals, but with no success. In this intriguing book, Edward Ashpole explains the probable reasons for this and discusses other avenues of investigation more in line with the nature of science and technology. The author examines the problems inherent in scanning the universe for radio or optical signals from an alien intelligence. These include the difficulty of trying to communicate with another species possessing a completely unknown form of technology and the vast distances that alien communications would have to travel to reach us. This leads the author to other ways of finding evidence for extraterrestrial life, given that advanced civilizations would probably use artificial intelligence for interstellar travel. Our scientists now know how to detect the presence of life on a planet by observing its spectral lines, so more advanced alien researchers would have had ample time (about two billion years) to investigate these "signatures of life" coming from Earth. Hence, the author argues, alien space probes could exist within our own solar system; there might be evidence on the erosion-free Moon or on another moon or planet. In fact, a few scientists have scanned NASA's best photography, looking for evidence of such "alien archaeology." In a final chapter, the author urges an open-minded attitude on the part of scientists to all credible sources of information, along with the use of the scientific method to test various hypotheses and weed out the fantasy factor, which so often interferes with serious attempts to find hard evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence.

From the contents pages:
I found that the author referred to me in the book:
The endnote in the text:
The quote from me comes from my chapter on "Physical Traces" in the book "UFOs 1947-1987" where I focused on the ground traces left in UFO landing events - Close Encounters of the 2nd kind in Dr. Allen Hynek's UFO parlance:
The "witches" reference comes from my 1996 book "The OZ Files - the Australian UFO story."  I elaborate:
In 1973, I was a third year Science student majoring in chemistry and mathematics at the University of New England.  I was also engaged in "forbidden science".  It was not the first time.  Nor would it be the last.   I was experiencing some difficulties in analysing soil samples from a UFO landing site at Emerald Beach, near Woolgoolga, on the north coast of New South Wales.
 A contact suggested I approach Dr. Keith Bigg, then Deputy Director of Radiophysics - CSIRO.  Dr. Bigg was helpful in his advice.  He was most intrigued about my descriptions of the Emerald Beach incident and the fact that "circles" had been found.  "Seems quite a classic case," he wrote.   Dr. Bigg's parting sanguine advice had an instructive twist to it.  "Never admit that your interest is in UFOs or you'll get nowhere.  You're more likely to get cooperation in hunting witches.  Think up a "scientific" reason...," he wrote.   Dr. Bigg's analytical advice was in the true spirit of science, a tribute to his own open mindedness, but his closing remarks were a sad reflection of the prevailing myopic view of mainstream science.  The English visionary, William Blake, referred to it as "Newton's sleep."

In my 2005 book "Hair of the Alien" I took the search for trace evidence into the more controversial area of alien abduction claims (see pages 6-7 of my book):
One of the great pioneers of scientific detection or forensic science was Dr Edmond Locard.  He is perhaps best remembered for the basic principle or idea behind the whole body of forensic science: every contact leaves a trace. While Locard clearly had in mind crime committed by human felons, the application of the principle in this very controversial area is of critical significance.[i] If alien abductions really occur in the manner described by thousands of people around the world, then at the very least a “crime” against the sovereignty of human kind is being perpetrated. Most of the claims of alien abduction describe situations that are clearly against the will of the individuals involved. Thus the “crime” interpretation and the forensic approach it inspires are well founded. Beyond the striking biological perspective there is a much broader and complex dimension to the forensic viewpoint. As in classic crime scene investigations the evidence for the reality of abduction claims can come from diverse avenues, such as the biological, physical, intuitive, and just plain commonsense.  There is also a cautionary element to forensic investigations; they require considerable care. Even while looking for the traces of alien “contact”, we must carefully examine the impact of the “contact” that comes with the intrusions of researchers, investigators and other participants into these bizarre situations. Their involvement can often give a less than satisfactory or reliable dimension to the more prosaic senses of “contact” with possible alien realities. Not every contact leaves a reliable trace.  Every aspect needs to be carefully considered. Beyond these cautionary elements, the idea of a “contact” resonates powerfully with the otherworldly implications of alien abduction experiences.

[i] For an interesting discussion of Locard’s principle see the prologue of Dr. Zakaria Erzinclioglu’s book “Every Contact leaves a trace”.

Edward Ashpole makes very important points in his book:

Debunking Skeptics and true believers would do well to read Edward Ashpole's fascinating new book. It highlights the need for UFO research to focus on good science, something I have been advocating throughout my own journey through the extraordinary UFO mystery.  While Ashpole is providing a broad brush and in the process misses many scientific touchstones in ufology it is a great bridging work. However I suspect that those that really should read it - the debunking skeptics and the uncritical true believer may be very stubborn demographics if history is any measure.  The book is a call for a more sensible path beyond the dogmas and beliefs of both extremes.  


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