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Friday, May 15, 2015

Tricks of the Ace UFO Debunkers

People keep seeing UFOs. According to this report, more than 1000 UFOs were seen in 2014 in Canada alone. But just as there are many UFO sightings, there are many web pages and web posts that aim to debunk UFO sightings. In case you might like to write one or read one yourself, I will let you know some of the top tricks of the ace UFO skeptics.

Technique #1: Total denial

The technique of total denial is a mindless technique that is often surprisingly effective. It works like this: no matter how much evidence has accumulated to suggest that some phenomenon is real, you simply declare that no such evidence exists. This technique is often shamelessly used by deniers of ESP. Ignoring thousands of published accounts supporting such a phenomenon, as well as more than 80 years of laboratory experiments, many producing extremely convincing results, a skeptic will just flatly state: there is no evidence whatsoever for ESP. The main advantage of this technique is that it can be effective if used as a sound bite. Rather than taking the time to dispute some mountain of evidence for something, which is unlikely to be very convincing, you can simply claim there is not the slightest bit of such evidence. This type of total denial is not at all fair, honest, or candid, but it often works well.

Technique #2: Under-reporting

This technique is widely used by modern skeptics. It works like this: given a very specific account of some paranormal phenomenon, the skeptic describes that phenomenon in a watered-down way, a way designed to make it as easy as possible to assert that the report is due to some known natural causes.

Here is an example of this technique in action. In the famous Enfield poltergeist case, one of many astonishing incidents was when Daily Mirror photographer Graham Morris reported Lego toy bricks flying around very fast in a room. Here is how Morris reported the incident in a newspaper account dated September 10, 1977 (very soon after the event):

When I went into the living room I saw toy bricks flying through the air. One of them hit me on the head. Nobody seemed to be throwing them. They were coming at the speed of bullets.

In the same case, a constable saw a chair rising up half an inch off the floor and mysteriously moving 3.5 or 4 feet. She checked the chair for wires, did a marble test, and found nothing that could explain the movement of the chair. The account can be found at 2:08 in the video here.

 But when this incident is described by a skeptic trying to debunk it, these compelling details are omitted. The skeptic describes Lego blocks flying about, without mentioning them moving as fast as bullets, and without mentioning the witness saying no one was throwing them. The skeptic mentions the constable seeing the chair moving, but makes no mention of how far it moved, and does not mention that the constable checked that there were no wires attached. Carefully censoring out these compelling details, the skeptic then proceeds to argue that it was all caused by some little girls playing tricks, a theory that makes no sense in light of the details that have been censored out.

Below are some hypothetical examples of under-reporting, as a skeptical debunker might use.

Original account Under-reporting of the account by a skeptic
I saw a transparent ghost who looked exactly like my father,” she said. “It even wore my father's favorite sports T-shirt.” She reported seeing something that she associated with her father.
I had a vision of my mother getting hit by a green car,” she said. “That same day I found she did get killed by a green car.” She thought of her mother on the same day she died, before hearing of her death.
I saw some weird flying saucer hovering over my field,” he said. “I looked at the field, and saw a gigantic crop circle.” He noticed something abnormal in his field, and he concluded that some UFO had something to do with it.

Technique #3: The smorgasbord

This is a kind of “everything but the kitchen sink” technique used by skeptics when they don't have a good explanation for something. The smorgasbord technique consists of listing a wide variety of possible explanations, in hopes that quantity will make up for a lack of quality. For example, some one trying to explain a ghost sighting may say that it is caused by “mist, a hallucination, fraud, mold spores, drug use, hysteria, memory confabulation, vision problems, or an optical illusion.” None of these actually work very well to explain a ghost sighting, but when you make a long list a list of possible explanations, it often sounds impressive.

Technique #4: Attack the witnesses, through accusations or insinuations

This is one of the favorite techniques of modern skeptics, one that they often ruthlessly apply. The idea is to disqualify or discredit the witness to some paranormal phenomenon. One crude application of the technique is to accuse a witness of being a fraud or someone who is hallucinating. Or, being a little more subtle, the skeptic may try to insinuate that the witness is some zealot or enthusiast whose account cannot be trusted because it reflects some emotional state of the witness. If all fails, the skeptic tries to insinuate that the witness is crooked, confused, crazed or “carried away” by some emotion.

Now let's look at an example of how these techniques might be used. Below is a hypothetical account of a UFO sighting.



Now here is a typical way in which a modern skeptic may try to debunk such a report.

UFO debunking

I can identify some of the sleazy tricks used in the debunking above. One trick is under-reporting (technique number 2 discussed above). The original report discussed compelling details such as a giant flying disk, as well a sighting by more than 40 witnesses. But these compelling details are censored from the skeptic's account of the incident. A sighting of a giant disk seen by 40 witnesses is under-reported, described as merely “seeing something in the sky he couldn't explain,” and described as if it was seen by only two witnesses. 
 
Another trick used is the smorgasbord technique (technique #3 discussed above). Lacking any good explanation for the reported sighting, the skeptic throws out a wide assortment of possible explanations, without explaining how any one of them can plausibly explain the sighting in question.

Still another trick used is the “attack the witnesses” technique (technique #4 discussed above). Apparently lacking any good basis for discrediting Ellerton as a witness, the writer makes a crude attempt to suggest that Ellerton's report cannot be trusted because he is religious. Think that skeptics rarely engage in attacks this crude? Try reading wikipedia.com, where this is done frequently.

The final trick used is the “total denial” technique, in which the writer brushes away six decades of inexplicable UFO reports by asserting that there is “no evidence whatsoever” that UFOs exist.

This UFO report and its skeptical rebuttal are hypothetical, but the argumentative techniques described here are really used, and used abundantly. Beware of them.