Date: Mon, 11 May 1998
On Mon, 11 May 1998 11:55:59, Mark Cashman <mcashman@IX.NETCOM.COM> wrote:
"I will easily concede that Phil stretches it on occassion - sometimes invoking explanations of puzzling UFO reports that strike us as "cheesy," or to be more academic, "inelegant." Of course, that's par for the course across the UFOlogical spectrum, from time to time, so I fail to see how this somehow invalidates him as a member of the UFOlogical community. I will as easily concede him a good point when made - and he's made a lot of them . I should think that this facet of his work would bring him closer to the UFO community."
The problem with Klass, as opposed to the position of the properly skeptical ufologist, is that he won't accept the contention that there are unexplained UFO reports which are challenging and interesting; while our properly skeptical UFOlogist has no problem with accepting both that many reports can be explained and that there are challenging and interesting UFO reports which cannot be explained prosaically.
A further problem with Klass and the attitude he promulgates is that it treats every UFO report as an isolated concrete and denies the possibility of patterns, or of the reinforcement of the validity of a report based on conformance to a pattern. As Hynek put it, if you first, a priori, assume that all UFO reports are explainable as misperceptions, hallucinations or hoaxes, and secondly take every UFO report as if it were the only UFO report in the world, and thirdly allow for any combination of circumstances, no matter how improbable each circumstance may be, to occur at the same time, you can probably come up with an "acceptable" explanation for any UFO report. However, that is not scientific.
The final problem is his willingness to throw away or deny any portion of the witness testimony which may be inconvenient for his desired explanation. That is very firmly not scientific. After all, if I throw away all of the evidence for the atomic structure of matter which I find inconvenient, I can probably prove that the universe is made of the four elements of Fire, Earth, Air and Water - but it won't be science when I do so.
"I see accusations that he "lacks integrity" quite frequently. Lacks integrity?"
I believe it would not necessarily be invalid to say that any theorist lacks intellectual integrity, who is unwilling to accept the complete testimony of the witness(es) be accounted for by his theory.
"In my recent interview with him, his first and foremost position seemed to be that he has not seen a case which is clearly indicative of extraterrestrial visitation. This seems a pretty valid stance, to me - probably more valid than wholesale endorsement of ETH."
There are many UFOlogists who accept UFOs as a scientific problem without endorsing the ETH. Furthermore, we cannot evaluate Klass position without an answer to the question - what would constitute a case indicative of extraterrestrial visitation? Then we would have to analyse such an answer and filter out a priori assumptions about the nature of extraterrestrial life and technological capabilities (any of which can be no more than the rankest speculation).
Klass would not be alone in making such assumptions part of his "standard". Vallee, whatever his other virtues, made many such a priori assumptions part of his "critique" of the ETH. Many, if not all, of his assumptions can be clearly shown to be irrelevant or sheer prejudice.
It is further an act of intellectual abdication to claim to rely on the content of a single case to validate the ETH, the PNH or any other hypothesis. Was the theory of relativity considered valid after a single experiment? Was the theory of the aether abandoned immediately upon the publication of Michaelson-Morely? Of course not. Multiple repeated experiments or observations which form a pattern supporting or denying a hypothesis are essential for scientific work. Again, Klass' "method" of taking each UFO case in isolation predetermines that it will be impossible for the data to accumulate any convincing weight in his mind.
"Let's consider the Mansfield, Ohio case, which Ronald Story included on his "not suitably explained" list."
To allow his explanation Klass must ignore or discount the witness testimony that:
1) A red light paced the helicopter for a short period, since meteors
don't do that.
Heck, what's left? "We saw a bright light that flew over the helicopter."? Now _that's_ easily explained.
Oh, and I forgot -
6) The light was initially red; meteors are not typically "red".
(Since the light is red, and both red and green lights are supposedly seen from the helicopter, and the object is traveling perpendicular to the helicopter, how can the windshield affect one light and not the other? If the object is red, and seen through a green glass, the result is not green, it is brown.)
Now, let's be generous, and even allow points 1 and 2 are actually an autokinetic illusion fostered by the fact that the object is headed directly toward the helicopter, and even allow 5 to be some sort of autokinetic illusion based on the helicopter entering a turn.
How can we explain the rest without calling two experienced airmen liars? The answer - we can't. Does the meteor explain the case? No, it does not. Will Klass admit it? No he does not. Does that show integrity? No, it does not.
"IMHO, he doesn't have to back down from all the others, because, as far as I can see it, anyone who accuses him of false explanation probably needs the real explanation at hand, with unimpeachable evidence to back it (else, it's just a war of conflicting hypotheses)."
No, this is a misunderstanding of the rules of scientific evidence. Anyone, including Phil Klass, who proposes to explain a case, that is to support or refute a hypothesis, is under the same obligation to provide evidence for their position. In any war of hypotheses, the hypothesis which explains the most features of the report wins. Not the hypothesis which is the least offensive to Phil Klass. On this score, Klass does not seem to do a very good job, and yes, he does have to back down when he can't explain 70% or so of the events in a report.
And, on the other hand, declaring that a report is unidentified simply states that the cause of the report cannot be determined. This is not really a hypothesis, since it does not propose an explanation or a cause for the report. The burden of proof is on the explainer.
In another paper, I discuss the methodology required for examining UFO reports. Essentially however, it goes like this:
1) Form hypotheses for a prosaic cause to the report and do everything possible to support them. If a meteor is conjectured, obtain other sightings of the same meteor and determine that all of the aspects of the report can be accounted for by a conventional meteor. If an aircraft is conjectured, then determine the flight plan and ID number of the aircraft. If all attempts at explanation fail, categorize the report as unidentified and proceed to step 2. If the testimony is dubious, rate the report at a low probability or reject it as a hoax.
2) Take the reports which are unidentified by step 1 and analyse them
for patterns. Form
Since Klass allows nothing to pass step 1, no matter how much the data must be distorted to prevent it, he never reaches step 2. Because of people like Klass, relatively few UFOlogists have reached step 2 - they are too busy defending their cases against ludicrous and fluid hypotheses which ignore or distort the case data.
Incidentally, step 2 can also be performed on IFOs. To the best of my knowledge, no "debunker" has ever attempted such a step.
"I think the only accusation I would ever level at Phil is that he sometimes formulates bad hypotheses. Here, we return to the idea of peer review. So, his explanation is bunk. He can hold it, even in the face of peer review, until such time as someone can conclusively prove that he is wrong."
No, he will be ignored until he conclusively proves he is right. And he cannot be a peer any more than someone who denies the atomic nature of matter is a peer of the nuclear physicist.
"It's easy to portray Phil as the "Oil Can Harry" of UFOlogy, but I believe he is really sincere about what he does. Maybe misguided or stubborn from time to time, but undoubtedly sincere. Which means he has integrity, in that he is true to what he believes in."
Integrity is not a synonym for stubbornness or sincerity. It is based
on "integration", which means having the results of one's thinking be as
seamless and integrated a whole as possible. Klass' thinking is a pastiche
of denying the data and casting aspersions on the witnesses. It is not
recognizable as scientific integrity, which requires willingness to admit
of failure and acceptance of the whole of the data as the thing to be explained.
Date: Mon, 11 May 1998
Re some of the other comments in this, please see the e-mail I just dispatched. I think I have covered them.
But I do want to address this comment of yours in more detail:
"But, all manner of debate on matters of integrity, philosophical orientation, etc., etc. aside, if it were up to me, I would allow the wolf (Phil Klass) into the fold (serious UFOlogists). Why? Because, if he is as nefarious as you indicate, and possessing of some degree of influence upon his audience, is it not the responsibility of the UFOlogist to take him on? In the interest that truth shall prevail? Otherwise, I see a disturbing similarity between the proclamation that he be ignored and what mainstream science has done with the UFOlogical community - not so much related to the quality of evidence or a lack thereof , but in the sheer ivory tower loftiness of it all."
There is some virtue in this, but I will point out that the intellectual and temporal capital of UFOlogy is limited. Every hour spent battling back yet another ludicrous "Kenneth Arnold saw geese" and "Bertrand, Hunt and Muscarello saw a hoax kite" is an hour not spent on the kind of serious work I think we agree is needed in UFOlogy.
Some people are attracted to the debate against the debunker. I spent a good chunk of a year on a "skeptic" list and a few times attempted to engage in such a debate. The times I attempted this I found the participants preferred to engage in ad hominem attacks on witnesses and investigators if the data could not be squeezed to fit into a natural phenomenon category. They engaged in the same sort of logical errors of which they accused UFO proponents, but would not recognize or admit to it except in the rarest of cases. I decided that such debates accomplished nothing except to raise my blood pressure, and that they were certainly doing nothing to advance knowledge in UFOlogy. And, frankly, I found the level of debate and critique among serious researchers who considered UFOs a real problem to be at a level that was far superior to that brought forward by "skeptics". In general one finds more constructive skepticism in this room than in any of those. Look at the recent debates on Linke, on Rendlesham, on radar cases...
There is no question that debate is important. And I enjoy debates or discussions with and among people who take their work seriously enough to try to refine it through their own contributions, positive or negative. I think many other researchers would agree that this is very productive.
On the other hand, there are many areas of profitless debate. One is - do UFOs exist as an objective phenomenon? The only way to resolve that is to go into the field and investigate and to spend time in analysis. Another are cases like Roswell, where the evidence pro and con is so evenly balanced, and where the information content is so low in any event, that nothing useful can come from it.
So, in short, others may tilt at the debunker's windmill. I'd rather work on the neglected areas in level 2.