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Location: UFOUpDatesList.Com > 2001 > Apr > Apr 7

Re: Debunkers' Guidebook - Clark

From: Jerome Clark <jkclark@frontiernet.net>
Date: Fri, 6 Apr 2001 11:16:42 -0500
Fwd Date: Sat, 07 Apr 2001 15:56:51 -0400
Subject: Re: Debunkers' Guidebook - Clark


 >Date: Thu, 5 Apr 2001 21:55:21 +0100
 >To: UFO UpDates - Toronto <updates@sympatico.ca>
 >From: John Rimmer <jrimmer@magonia.demon.co.uk>
 >Subject: Re: UFO UpDate: Re: Debunkers' Guidebook


 >>From: Jerome Clark <jkclark@frontiernet.net>
 >>To: UFO UpDates - Toronto <updates@sympatico.ca>
 >>Subject: Re: Debunkers' Guidebook
 >>Date: Wed, 4 Apr 2001 16:09:52 -0500


John,

 >>There is a long history of internal dissent and criticism within
 >>ufology. That's why ufologists have debunked so many UFO claims.
 >>I'm surprised that such has miraculously missed your notice on
 >>this list alone. But then, I guess, one sees what one wants to
 >>see.

 >The problem is that at some stage, some ufologists cross an
 >invisible boundary, known only to Jerome Clark, which moves them
 >from the category of "ufologist" to that of "debunker". At this
 >point their arguments no longer count as internal debate and
 >criticism, but become "ideological scoring".

The term "debunker," as I gather you don't understand, was not
coined by the evil Jerome Clark. It has been around for quite a
while. The most useful definition was provided by sociologist of
science Marcello Truzzi (who coined the phrase, nearly always
misattributed to Carl Sagan, about extraordinary claims and
extraordinary proof). Truzzi characterizes a debunker as one
who denies, whereas a skeptic is one who doubts. In other words,
debunkers assume that, because UFOs don't exist, any explanation
is preferable to one that leaves open the possibility that a UFO
report may represent something extraordinary and beyond current
knowledge. A debunker rejects UFOs (as well as other anomalous
phenomena) out of hand. Any investigation or other consideration,
therefore, is intended solely to identify the allegedly prosaic
stimulus behind the report.

 >Part of the problem is, I think, the difference in the nature of
 >the sceptical response within the British (and broader European)
 >UFO world, and American ufology. I have pointed this out before,
 >but I suspect that Jerry thought I was indulging in some sort of
 >anti-Americanism, and never responded to my suggestion.

It's not hard, of course, to suspect anti-Americanism in some of
the rhetoric that wafts from European quarters. Of course, when
pointed out, it is always indignantly denied. American observers
are left to deduce that anti-American impulses are so depressingly
ingrained in some of our colleagues across the water that they
themselves remain oblivious to them. In the paragraph follows,
note the implication that British ufologists are by nature smarter
than their American counterparts:

 >In Britain most of the prominent sceptical ufologist are just
 >that: ufologists who have come to their sceptical position after
 >years of actual, getting-your-hands-dirty, UFO investigation.
 >People like Andy Roberts and David Clarke, and many others who
 >are probably less well-known to UpDates researchers, are
 >ufologists first and sceptics second.

In the United States the best ufologists traditionally have done
years of actual, getting-your-hands dirty UFO investigation.
People such as Walt Webb, James McDonald, Allen Hynek,
Ted Bloecher, Dave Webb, Bruce Maccabee, Jennie Zeidman,
Ray Fowler, Mark Rodeghier, Allan Hendry, Richard Haines,
Isabel Davis, Budd Hopkins, Stan Friedman, Kevin Randle,
Karl Pflock, Len Stringfield, Wendy Connors, Michael Hall,
Coral and Jim Lorenzen, Brad Sparks, Kenny Young, Paul
Cerny, Bill Weitzel, and on and on and on. They are all (or,
in the case of those no longer with us, were) ufologists first
and UFO proponents second.

 >This seems to contrast with the American position, where
 >sceptics like Klass and Scheaffer seem to have come into the
 >field with scientific or technical credentials already
 >established elsewhere. I grant that there are one or two
 >exceptions on either side of the Atlantic (Dennis Stacy and Ian
 >Ridpath come to mind - perhaps unfairly for either or both of
 >them)

Yeah, I guess Peter Sturrock, James McDonald, Allen Hynek,
Brad Sparks, Bruce Maccabee, Walt Webb, Mark Rodeghier,
Stan Friedman, Allan Hendry, Mike Swords, Dick Haines,
David Pritchard, et al., have no scientific credentials, unlike
Klass and "Scheaffer." I presume, incidentally, that you mean
poor Bobby Sheaffer, owner of the most consistently misspelled
last name in all of ufological discourse.

Oh, wait ... exactly _which_ scientific credentials do Klass and
Sheaffer have, beyond one or a small number of undergraduate
courses, if that? (By that definition, I guess I'm a scientist,
too.) The answer to the question is: none I am aware of. Both
were trained as engineers, and neither has ever held down a job
in the sciences, unlike most of the American ufologists listed
above. I guess that explains why Klass and Sheaffer kept making
scientific bloopers, forcing Bruce Maccabee to warn, after
repeated violations, that explanations claiming to be
conventional have to answer to conventional physics. I guess you
can excuse Klass and Sheaffer, however; after all, they are
scientifically untrained, so what else should we expect?

 >So that when Andy Roberts explains a case such a Berwyn
 >Mountain, I see that as an example of the type of "internal
 >dissent" that Jerry describes above. Presumably Jerry sees it
 >as an example of external "debunking".

I defer judgments on the soundness of Roberts's debunking
to Jenny Randles, who knows far more about the case than I.

 >>Whatever its problems, ufology at least understands that real
 >>intellectual inquiry demands internal policing and debate in the
 >>interest of truth-seeking, as opposed to ideological scoring,
 >>where a belief has to be defended at all costs, with no
 >>concession or quarter given. The absence of internal criticism,
 >>one might add, is one characteristic of pseudoscience.

 >I see plenty of beliefs being defended at all costs on this
 >List. The Alien Autopsy and Gulf Breeze being only two of the
 >most egregious examples.

The Alien Autopsy is viewed skeptically by just about everybody
I know in this field, including, I gather from the largely negative
view of same expressed here, most people on this List. Of course
it's always possible that Dick Hall featured it prominently
in The Book Whose Title Bob Young Doesn't Want Us to Mention
and somehow I missed it. I know it isn't the The Collected Works
of Jerome Clark, but then it's always possible that I was suffering
amnesia when I touted the AA. Anyway, you can help all of us
by providing us with page references.

As for Gulf Breeze, I suggest you take up the discussion with
Bruce Maccabee. You can explain to him just where he went wrong
in his technical analyses of the photographs. I look forward to the
discussion, on which I assume you can hardly wait to get started.

 >>No such policing and debate exist with the UFO-debunking camp,
 >>only the sort of robotic head-nodding one observes of
 >>true-believing bedfellows who have gathered to fight a common
 >>hated enemy. I have a long paper trail of criticism of
 >>ufologists' shortcomings. So do Dick Hall, Brad Sparks, and
 >>other prominent ufologists on this List and elsewhere. When you
 >>get around to offering comparably serious criticisms of the
 >>failings of Menzel, Klass, Condon, the psychosociologists, and
 >>others who share your beliefs, let me know.

 >You continue to believe that sceptics never disagree with each
 >other. You cannot therefore have read John Harney's criticisms
 >of Phil Klass's analysis of the Travis Walton case in Magonia
 >Supplement. Never mind, you'll have the opportunity to read more
 >in the forthcoming Magonia 74, which shouls be with you in a
 >couple of weeks. I also find very little evidence of general
 >support amongst sceptical ufologists of the pelican theory for
 >Arnold, or the balloon theory for Soccorro.

Well, that's a relief. It's good to see that Magonia's
iconoclasm, on which it is always congratulating itself, applies
even to stupid debunking explanations. Sad to say, John Harney
is, as even you will agree I am sure, a very minor figure of
whom even few debunkers have heard. Still, he is to be
congratulated for acknowledging the obvious, that Klass's theory
about the Walton case is a load of rubbish. A happy exception to
a grim rule of robotic head-nodding among debunkers.

Incidentally, I shall assume, as I'm sure most who read your
words will, that your energetic defense of debunkers amounts to
a concession - which you have refused to address even after I
have asked you at least six or seven times - that psychosocial
ufology is now a wing of the debunking movement. On the positive
side, if you continue to commit the ultimate heresy of dissent
from the official line on occasion, you will find yourself in
the intellectual wilderness, but at least you will have gotten
there honorably.

Less honorably, you imply that debunkers regularly debate and
critique each other's work. That's a testable hypothesis. Here's
how you can prove it: provide us with at least a partial
bibliography of writings by major debunkers such as Klass,
Sheaffer, or Oberg, or minor ones from the professional
debunking movement (CSICOP, the various skeptics' organizations
affiliated or unaffiliated with same, the assorted publications
of the movement), in which debunking claims about UFO cases are
held up to question, criticism, and ultimate rejection.

Years ago, when challenged to do the same, Klass, Sheaffer, and
Oberg could not come up with a single citation. The very concept
of internal debate and criticism clearly puzzled them; Sheaffer
even characterized the notion as "strange." Maybe you can do
better. All you have to do is to write that bibliography on the
head of a pin. Don't worry - you'll still have space to spare.


Jerry Clark







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