Seth Shostak's flawed thinking
Shostak article "The Great UFO Debate" from http://www.space.com/searchforlife/seti_shostak_ufo_050714.html
DS - Doctor Shostak
Lehm: There is a long smear 'twixt "good news," "news," and then "bad news." How does the reader interpret the category our Dr. Shostak uses to categorize the "weird" kind? If that's not plain now, it will be as the story weaves its very predictable path as defined by the confines of D. Shostak's mawkish quest for continued funding. Moreover, Dr. Shostak will provide ample proof of his political mastery of this path only as he ponderously grinds the specious axe of his denialist's agenda, in my opinion. Revealed: his canted whetstone.
DS: Several recent television shows have soberly addressed the possibility that alien craft are violating our air space, occasionally touching down long enough to allow their crews to conduct bizarre (and, in most states, illegal) experiments on hapless citizens. While these shows tantalize viewers by suggesting that they are finally going to get to the bottom of the so-called "UFO debate", they never do. That bottom seems perennially out of reach.
Lehm: Why would that be... one wonders! The single most important event to impose itself on humankind since the Arrival of Buddha, the Oath of Krishna, the Resurrection of Christ, and the Ascension of Mohammed... ...combined... ...demands a diligent search for the "bottom..." ...even if it is "perennially out of reach"! Think! That's a concise description of all humanity has ever done! That is to say, keep inexplicably reaching for the perennially out of reach! It's what we do!
Lehm: ...Yet that search is not forthcoming... and this is despite the intense interest of an astounding two thirds of the population to which Shostak, himself, condescendingly admits!
Lehm: How does one account for a stunning imbalance sufficient to change whole constitutions of super-power nations, while that same population is routinely denied information having such a profound effect on the quality of their very lives? Shostack baffles himself with convenient peripheral issues content with his role as "learned mainstream front-man," "pelicanist shill, and "lauded denialist"... imo, and is only an intimation of the rationality he is so practiced at portraying in all media... ALL media.
DS: So what are the contentious issues here?
Lehm: What indeed are these issues, and can Dr. Shostak be counted upon to consider them intelligently, bravely, selflessly, and creatively in turn, employing a manner that is as non-partisan as it is tolerant or as expansive as it is diligent? We shall see. Breathing should not be suspended.
DS: First off, despite heated discussion by all concerned, let's admit that interstellar travel doesn't violate physics. It's possible. After all, the Pioneer and Voyager probes are nearly three decades into an inadvertent interstellar journey right now.
Lehm: ...Though, at specific locations we can't account for, presently, eh Dr Shostak?
DS: The kicker, of course, is that these craft will take 70,000 years to cover the distance to even the nearest stars (and they're not aimed that way). With the physics we know, it's extremely difficult to substantially, and safely, shorten that travel time.
Lehm: Not so, I believe. Stanton Friedman, who regularly dusts (to be kind) Dr. Shostak in public debate (with DS the first, and last, to get snippy and defensive in same, imo), is quite clear that the mere imposition of our will to stop our egregious tribal warfare is all that is necessary in a successful reach to the stars... and all of this in a bubble of space only 70 or 80 light-years in radius. Having actually worked on the very successful hardware in question trumps a career of ludicrously looking for smoke signals from intelligences "too far away to get here", and that readily accepted only because we can't yet "suss out" how to travel there. Good lord... the insipid arrogance. No... with high tech "wagon trains" in space... we could get there from here. Truly, "there" is a lot closer than we are lead to believe by Dr. Shostak's self-involved, self-limiting, and so self-defeating personal philosophy.
DS: Sure, it might be theoretically possible to create wormholes or some other exotic facility for high-speed cosmic cruising; but that approach is entirely speculative.
Lehm: Uh, huh... and there was also absolutely no need to leap all the way out to "worm holes" and "warp technology" as Shostak, very arbitrarily and leaping to the absurd, puts us! ...And it should be pointed out that Dr. Shostak, himself, was the one to take the leap... though, to what end? To make the reader take that presumptive breath for the suggested smirky giggle? To appeal to the Doctor's conjectured absurd for the purposes of same? To inject 'unlikelihood' deeply into the probable 'likelihood' so as to distract from that likelihood? Be that as it may? Shostak was the one to make the leap, and hangs momentarily (if a little foolishly) in open air as a result.
DS: And it's not really the point. The problem I have with the claim that strange craft are prowling our planet is not with the transportation mode, but with the evidence.
Lehm: An extra-ordinary claim (especially one made with the observation of quality instruments both mechanical and multiply witnessed) deserves an investigation that is equally extraordinary, one would think, as alternative thinkers have pointed out. This is forgetting that the body of evidence is seven levels deep, cuts all the way across a wide social strata, and is thousands of years long. A less than wholly constructive reflex reductionist denial of all this as a "lack of evidence" is just ludicrous and intellectually obscene.
DS: I'll worry about how they got here once I'm convinced that they've really made the scene.
Lehm: There's the rub, folks! Did you catch it? What would it indeed take for Dr. Shostak to be convinced that "...they've really made the scene"? We all know that Dr. Shostak busily touts the specious Saganic rubric that "...extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence...," but that shopworn rubric is too often used as a "think cloak" to "preclude progressive [and more constructive] thinking," actually, and provides for a "receding evidentiary horizon" in the same way one might put the requirements for evidence finally accepted at the end of a skepti-bunkers two-color rainbow (Van Gemert). That is to say that no evidence would ever be good enough for the Doctor. That's a dodge of a coward, frankly. Again—what would it take to convince the Doctor, given the already abundant preponderance of same?
DS: Well, have they?
Lehm: Quite! Drake's equation says they are. Fermi's paradox says they will. Evidentiary Ufology say they have. ...If this were baseball Doctor Shostak would already be out.
DS: How good is the evidence?
Lehm: Better than can be expected in a climate of systemic denialism, institutional intransigence, and scientific cowardice... that's for sure.
DS: In the course of a recent TV broadcast in which I participated...
Lehm: Where Doctor Shostak performed glibly but dissemblingly while his uninformed wingman Dr. Susan Clancy performed... well... not at all.
DS: ...guest experts who have long studied UFOs argued the case for their alien nature by showing photographs of putative saucers hovering at low altitudes. Some of these objects appeared as out-of-focus lights, while others resembled hubcap-shaped Frisbees caught in mid-trajectory.
Lehm: Dr. Shostak proposes this like he was some kind of expert in photographic analysis. He is not. He proclaims the preceding like he was an optical physicist. He is not. The doctor announces the foregoing like he had a reputation for looking at both sides of the issue without cant, bias, or forgone conclusion. He has no such reputation. I also add, as I wrote before, that the ufological proponents came out way ahead in the presentation alluded to by Dr. Shostak... explained by the lack of substance in Dr. Shostak's lugubrious but negativist's pleading and the abject ignorance of Dr. Susan Clancy... truly a deer caught in headlights.
DS: Since the former are perforce ambiguous, the latter commanded more of my attention. How can we know they're NOT hubcaps, tossed into the air by a hoaxer with a camera? The reply from one expert: "these photographs pass muster." When quizzed on exactly which muster was mastered, the response was that "atmospheric effects give us a limit on the distance, and careful examination has ruled out photographic trickery." Well, the former is pretty chancy, and relies on some assumption about atmospheric conditions (was it a smoggy day in Los Angeles?), and the latter proves nothing. A real shot of an airborne hubcap would, after all, be free of photographic trickery.
Lehm: Dr. Shostak is ever a master of the exhorted slight of hand, and this verbal juggle of assumptive gymnastics is a near 'delight' to behold... you just can't but it in the existential bank. Dr. Shostak only continued to pretend an expertise he does not have in a subject that is anathema to him. There was no time for completely honorable men like Mr. Swiatec and Dr. Maccabee, actual experts mind you, to make clear the requirements for "passing muster" in a few minutes of TV time with six persons on the panel. Shostak might just as well have asked for a detailed description of "Cell Respiration" or "Photosynthesis" each requiring a full hour of presentation time with slides and overheads... just to begin to get an idea of what constitutes "muster passing." It remains that the respected experts say they are not thrown objects, and the conflicted or uninformed pretenders say they are... where does the smart money go, reader?
DS: Additional evidence that is endlessly cited is "expert testimony." Pilots, astronauts, and others with experienced eyes and impressive credentials have all claimed to see odd craft in the skies. It's safe to say that these witnesses have seen something. But just because you don't recognize an aerial phenomenon doesn't mean that it's an extraterrestrial visitor. That requires additional evidence that, so far, seems to be as unconvincing as the trickery-free saucer snaps.
Lehm: Wasn't that lovely? "...trickery-free saucer snaps..." Rolls right off the tongue in a delightful little dance, doesn't it? It remains that Dr. Shostak is the canted amateur in the exchange, and that poetic explication and a practiced public persona is no guarantee of correctness or constructiveness... ...unless I'm the one doing it, reader. Har!
Lehm: It also remains that experienced, talented, intelligent, educated, and honorable persons perceive something in their skies transcending the highly strange and that these things appear as if they are under intelligent control. The reader is best advised to fix on that which Shostak admits as an intellectual loss-leader, quality testimony, and well away from his "trickery-free saucer snaps," which could never be quality testimony, anyway, imo.
DS: What about those folks who have experienced alien beings first-hand?
Lehm: ...Yes, Sir... the many, many thousands of them, ignored by society, marginalized by their mal-instructed peers, and punished for same by a plethora of closed institutions more interested in their own status quo than the individual human beings they were created to serve? What about them indeed?
DS: Abduction stories are an entirely separate field of study and one which I won't address here, although I must confess that it's intriguing to see photos of scoop marks on the flesh of human subjects, coupled with the claim that these minor disfigurements are due to alien malfeasance.
Lehm: ..."intriguing..."? These persons are not lab-rats, Sir. You would be their betrayer, it seems, as the gleeful pitchman for the hijacked and denying mainstream you gladly represent, denying the disaffected for a dissembling place at the academic trough.
DS: But even aside from the puzzling question of why beings from distant suns would come to Earth to melon-ball the locals, this evidence is, once again, ambiguous. The scoops might be due to aliens, and then again, they could be the consequence of spousal abuse or many other causes.
Lehm: ...Anything but that which raises the hair on the back of your neck, good Doctor... ..."melon-ball," indeed. Seems what the good Doctor lacks in ufological competence is not made up in compassion for people enduring something truly terrifying... a terror made worse by a culture that punishes them for enduring it... ..."spousal abuse," indeed. How about "sleep paralysis"?
DS: When push came to shove, and when pressed as to whether there's real proof of extraterrestrial visitation, the experts on this show backed off by saying that "well, we don't know where they come from. But something is definitely going on." The latter statement is hardly controversial. The former is merely goofy. If the saucers and scoopers are not from outer space, where, exactly, are they from? Belgium?
Lehm: The doctor must be merely joking, no one could be walking around in this much oxygen debit and still survive. Does Doctor Shostak want to know what goofy really is? Goofy is reflexively insipid denial of seven categories of evidence that is very wide, exceptionally long, and astoundingly deep. Goofy is depending on clever turns of phase and artful exposition appealing to an audience's lowest common denominator. Goofy is spending too much money listening for alien smoke signals from around distant stars. Goofy is relying on discredited homocentricism to short-circuit natural curiosity and appropriate humility. Goofy is pretending to be an expert when you are not. Goofy is expecting the aforementioned audience to forget that Dr. Shostak has a big hungry dog in this fight over the UFO question... so his sincerity is suspect.
Lehm: There is indeed "something" going on. It is clear that we are not getting forthcoming information on it from suspect agencies, un-elected governments, or closed institutions. Moreover, the curiosity that Dr. Shostak pretends to champion is not remotely served by his back-stepping obstinacy and scientistic (sic) intransigence. Not remotely.
DS: The bottom line is that the evidence for extraterrestrial visitors has not convinced many scientists.
Lehm: ...Scientists intimidated by the jealous system, threatened by an imposed and belligerent giggle factor, and bullied by presupposing, conflicted, purposely uninformed, if lettered, peers... ...peers not unlike Dr. Shostak?
DS: Very few academics are writing papers for refereed journals about alien craft or their occupants.
Lehm: See my response immediately above...
DS: Confronted with this, the UFO experts usually take refuge in two possible explanations:
Lehm: ...Ummmmno. The unctuous fallacy of "Either / Or" ...even leavened with a "usually" does nothing to provide the barriers to progressive thinking on this issue that the Doctor would hope to achieve. It remains: his Silly Exercise to Investigate is not safe because it is a ludicrous exercise... This is forgetting UFOs will not likely be explained in just two pathetic and facile explanations.
DS: The material that would be convincing proof has been collected and secreted away by the U.S. government.
Lehm: Riiiiight... Governments have shown a remarkable ability to be transparent and appropriately forthcoming regarding paradigm changing occurrences. Not!
DS: While endlessly appealing, this is an argument from ignorance (tantamount to saying "we can't show you good evidence because we haven't got it"), and perforce implies that every government in the world has efficiently squirreled away all alien artifacts.
Lehm: Right! Egregious truths about the criminality of government and its failure to adequately represent don't come to light every freaking day if more every day! Besides, Dr. Shostak's airy dismissal of likely behavior from the aforementioned black governments does not make that benevolent government, so... and this is forgetting the good doctor has a "dog in the fight," remember.
DS: Unless, of course, the extraterrestrials only visit the U.S., where retrieval of material that falls to Earth is supposedly a perfected art form.
Lehm: Which is nothing more than a written smirk wrapped in a sneer and so discountable on its face. It remains that procedures have been established in professional manuals, public and private, for UFO avoidance and retrieval, and that it is no stretch to suppose that there must be more detailed but classified publications for same, elsewhere, justifying these regulations and procedures.
DS: Scientists have simply refused to look carefully at this phenomenon.
Lehm: ...Meme proposed and answered twice above...
DS: In other words, the scientists should blame themselves for the fact that the visitation hypothesis has failed to sway them.
Lehm: No... Let us first lay the blame at Dr. Shostak's feet. As a celebrant of the mainstream prosaic unless a billion light years away... and only to prop up his own incipient enterprise... the blame can be laid there with some confidence, I should think.
DS: Not only is this unfair, it's misguided.
Lehm: Now there's a coal colored iron pot calling a polished stainless steel kettle black!
DS: Sure, rather few researchers have themselves gone into the field to sift through the stories, the videos, and the odd photos that comprise the evidence for alien presence.
Lehm: And many of them come back convinced Shostak fails to point out! Consider Hynek, Vallee, Haines, and McDonald. These were real scientists wading in as confirmed skeptics and walking away not so sure, at a minimum!
DS: But they don't have to.
Lehm: Yes! Yes, they do! ...If they expect to continue to be called scientists. Perhaps Doctor Shostak has forgotten what being a real scientist must be like!
DS: This complaint is akin to telling movie critics that films would be better if only they would pitch in and get behind the camera.
Lehm: One word: Nonsense! Dr. Shostak's analogy is akin to the tedious canard of comparing apples to oranges! Movie critics would write better critiques if they ACTUALLY SAW THE FILM!
DS: But critics can compose excellent and accurate evaluations of a movie without being participants in the business of making films.
Lehm: ...But they compose a steaming pile of bupkis if they haven't seen (or don't want to see) the FILM!
DS: The burden of proof is on those making the claims, not those who find the data dubious.
Lehm: There is more going on in the issue than this tiresome canard, that's for sure. A preponderance of evidence growing larger as we speak shall not be forever discounted even as the "flying saucer gap" between competing countries widens. Perhaps Dr, Shostak is unaware of this widening gap. Moreover, there are a multitude of reasons that go completely unexplored with regard to exactly why the aforementioned scientists would find the data "dubious" to begin with.
DS: If there are investigators who are convinced that craft from other worlds are buzzing ours, then they should present the absolute best evidence they have, and not resort to explanations that appeal to conspiratorial cover-ups or the failure of others to be open to the idea.
Lehm: A good scientist must follow the data, Dr. Shostak seems to have forgotten, and if the data leads to conspiracy... well what waddles and quacks might be a duck!
DS: The UFO advocates are not asking us to believe something either trivial or peripheral, for after all, there could hardly be any discovery more dramatic or important than visitors from other worlds. If we could prove that the aliens are here, I would be as awestruck as anyone, however, I await a compelling Exhibit A.
Lehm: I suspect that there is no amount of compelling exhibit "A" sufficient enough, imo, to convince Dr. Shostak... because he has too much time and effort tied into a paradigm that pays his bills and keeps him more than merely comfortable. Outside of that, he's a practiced mal-assembling tether on the leg of humankind's rising and advancing spirit. Nothing more.
Lehm: Closing, this writer found Doctor Shostak's written position as fatuous as his televised one, and twice as intellectually misleading... be that as it may, it remains that an ~admitted~ two thirds of the population alluded to regard Dr. Shostak with "arms akimbo and eyes askance," and that is a signal that good news may portend... as it would appear that five decades of duplicity and fraud by our default societal institutions has just not had the desired effect. A majority of people, intelligent and honorable people... suspect the UFO phenomenon is real and that we should know more about it. That can ~only~ be good news and the only thing that can be reliably drawn from Doctor Shostak's conflicted and dismissive cant.Restore John Ford!