Anti-Science

Disappointment all around.

You guys are going to kill me.

I know that you’re all waiting for a report on the LSE/BO, so I feel really badly that Motoko forgot to grab the spare keyless remote before leaving for work this morning in order to satisfy the silly test conditions. Therefore, the LSE/BO has been postponed once again until tomorrow.

Instead, I bring you the story of the man who found PROOF of the existence of UFOs and who is now being prosecuted by the US government for his discovery.

Well, not exactly. Wired News offers an interview with Gary McKinnon, a man who hacked into US governmental computers looking for proof of conspiracies, making the key mistakes of a.) not covering his tracks and b.) doing all his hacking around September 11, 2001. The Wired News interview has Gary at his conspiracy theorist-best, claiming to have seen pictures of alien space ships such as

It was a silvery, cigar-shaped object with geodesic spheres on either side. There were no visible seams or riveting. There was no reference to the size of the object and the picture was taken presumably by a satellite looking down on it. The object didn’t look manmade or anything like what we have created.

Emphasis mine. It all seems rather damning until you check out an interview Gary gave last year with Jon Ronson, one of my all-time favorite writers. In it, Ronson relates the following:

At the Johnson Space Centre [McKinnon] spied on photographs of cigar-shaped objects that might have been UFOs but – [McKinnon] says – were probably satellites.

Emphasis mine again. How things change in a year! McKinnon also admits that while he was hacking, he was constantly high. I have a friend who got high once and found evidence that his landlord was stealing his teacups when he wasn’t home, but maybe that was because he was affected by the common side effect of marijuana known as paranoia. Or maybe his landlord just really coveted his teacups.

McKinnon also admits to Ronson that he unsuccessfully tried to blackmail the US into dropping the charges by suggesting he knew more about secret conspiracies than he really did:

There is a silence.

“I had very little evidence,” he admits. “It’s not a very good bargaining chip at all, really, is it?”

For those of you who suspect that perhaps Ronson merely downplayed what McKinnon found, I suggest you check out his books Them: Adventures with Extremists and The Men who Stare at Goats Ronson unflinchingly enters the world of the weirdos, fully immersing himself in their particular brands of crazy by taking them seriously, getting them to fully detail their theories, and then occasionally digging up grains of truth contained within those theories.

In summary, it’s just been another day during which a media outlet (Wired News in this case) gave someone a nice, credulous bit of exposure.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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11 Comments

  1. OK, how does one get a book called "The Men Who Stare At Goats" published, anyway? Picture it. You're a managing editor at a publishing house. One of your editors brings a book to you with a recommendation. "What's it called?" you ask…

  2. Close encounters of the nerd kind

    By LYNN DOAN

    Los Angeles Times

    ALISO VIEJO, Calif. — Move over, Roswell. South Orange County is recording its own share of UFO sightings.

    Several residents have reported the sightings to the Orange County Sheriff’s Department in recent months. And word has even reached a Canadian UFO researcher who has posted information about the sightings on his Web site.

    In one case, witnesses reported seeing glowing disks zigzagging through trees and hovering above the Aliso Viejo Town Center at night. About a yard in diameter and studded with flashing lights, the four UFOs dance around one another in the night sky.

    These flying saucers aren’t a top-secret military project. And they aren’t being piloted by Martians either.

    The saucers are made in the garages of Gaylon Murphy and Steve Zingali, who get their kicks shocking people and hope to earn a few bucks hawking their remote-controlled saucers. After all, a few UFO sightings can only be good for business.

    “We fly them in formation. It’s pretty funny,” said Murphy, a cardiovascular surgeon. “People stop, people scream, one cabdriver ran his car up off the road.”

    Nick Peterson was stunned when he saw one of the disks fly past his girlfriend’s upstairs apartment.

    “I thought, ‘That can’t be a UFO, can it?’ “ he said. “It’s pretty weird.”

    The disks are made of foam and weigh about a pound. Each runs on a 7.4-volt lithium battery and has a propeller.

    On weekends, Murphy flies the disks in Aliso Viejo, Newport Beach, Mission Viejo and Laguna Niguel. He and Zingali, a facilities engineer, have sold four of the gizmos at $1,000 each and concede their streaking light show is part hobby, part promotion.

    “It’s good marketing,” he said.

    The Canadian UFO Web site, which logs oddities from supposed saucer sightings to alleged alien abductions and offers an assortment of paranormal literature, indicates that the homemade disks have captured the attention — and the imagination — of both the skeptical and the true believer.

    The disks sparked a confrontation between Murphy and Erik Strong, a manager an Aliso Viejo restaurant and bar. Strong said Murphy was spooking his staff by hovering his disk near the restaurant.

    “It looked like something right out of a movie, a little too real,” Strong said. “I wouldn’t say I made the determination that they were actual UFOs, but it did pique my curiosity enough to see where it was coming from.”

    Strong followed the UFOs to nearby Grand Park, where Murphy and Zingali were standing with their remote controls. He told the pair they were going to create hysteria if they continued to fly their disks around Town Center.

    Murphy told Strong he should be more concerned about his bar patrons getting rowdy. But the restaurant manager said he hadn’t seen a disk since.

    Murphy confessed that he’d also had a few encounters with law enforcement.

    He attracted some local notoriety in November when one of his saucers got stuck on the roof of the Barnes & Noble. Murphy asked shop owners if he could climb up to retrieve it, but they resisted because “they thought he was crazy,” according to the sheriff’s deputy’s report.

    When the deputy showed up, the store manager allowed Murphy to retrieve his toy, said Lt. Richard Paddock, police services chief for Aliso Viejo.

    Paddock said deputies couldn’t do much about complaints.

    “To my knowledge, this man has violated no law while flying this craft in Aliso Viejo,” he said.

    Newport Beach Police Sgt. Bill Hartford also said Murphy wasn’t breaking any laws.

    Scanning a list of city ordinances, Hartford said: “You can’t hit golf balls on a public park. You can’t skateboard on a public tennis court. But I don’t see anything specifically that would forbid him from flying his UFOs.”

  3. The book never does go on to tell about how badly traumatized the poor goats were. being stared at all day made them terribly self-conscious, and they sank deep in to co-dependent, self-destructive behaviours.

  4. I must chide you Skepchick, for transcribing Otis' comments, for now I can't stop my brain from reading this as the Lesbo Project.

    msd, wondering how lesbians can unlock cars using their cell phones.

  5. With the caveat that some of Jon Ronson's reporting in his documentary about the Bohemian Grove thing, with his then compadre <a>Alex "the Redcoats are coming" Jones, was borderline a conspiracy theory itself. Although, to be fair, he largely let the subject matter speak for itself rather than particularly spinning it. Sceptics went away thinking Alex Jones is a bit misguided and beleivers went away beleiving. His documentary on the Bilderburg Group Meeting was somewhat better, he showed both the conspiracy theorists and some of the Bilderbergers as being a bit silly.

  6. See… now I know he was high. Who else in their right mind would think that claiming to know MORE about top-secret-government-crap than he actually does would keep him breathing?

    Must have been some good stuff.

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