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Location: UFOUpDatesList.Com > 2002 > Nov > Nov 29

Re: Jimmy Carter The Nobel Prize & ETs

From: Catherine Reason <CathyM.nul>
Date: Fri, 29 Nov 2002 13:23:01 -0000
Archived: Fri, 29 Nov 2002 10:40:25 -0500
Subject: Re: Jimmy Carter The Nobel Prize & ETs

>From: Bob Young <YoungBob2.nul>
>To: ufoupdates.nul
>Date: Thu, 28 Nov 2002 01:43:23 EST
>Subject: Re: Jimmy Carter The Nobel Prize & ETs

Hello Bob,

Thanks for your reply, especially since I realized after I'd sent
my last email that I hadn't actually said everything I wanted on
the subject.

This will unfortunately be quite a long email, because to
prevent any confusion I think I'm going to have to go into one
or two matters in rather a lot of detail. I hope no-one objects.

>>The problem is, unless you know the exact positions of the
>>objects in the original report, or you have a priori set limits
>>to the errors you'll accept in the measurements of those
>>positions, any pattern-matching you do is inevitably arbitrary
>>and post-hoc. You simply can't quantify the possibility that
>>the match may have ocurred entirely by chance.

>Yes, I think in this case, one can with a lot of confidence.

Well then, what is this possibility you think you can quantify
with a lot of confidence? 5%? 30%? How do you compute such a

>This isn't a matter of a pattern of any three objects. Other
>patterns of stars were almost certainly not visible in the
>bright Moonlight. There wasn't much "below" below the Moon, less
>than 14 degrees. The only natural astronomical objects visible
>below the Moon, or anywher near the Moon, would have been the
>two planets.

I think we have some confusion here, Bob.

I didn't mean, as you seem to have assumed, that if one looked
in the vicinity of the Moon one would find indefinite numbers of
astronomical alignments corresponding to any given set of
points. Indeed, I'm not at all sure why you should think I did,
since this would be a very odd thing to assume, given that one
of the points was uncontroversially the Moon, and one or other
of the remaining points was uncontroversially Jupiter.

Never mind, I'll explain some more below.

To start with, I think we need to define some terms. For reasons
that I hope will become clear, I'll refer to the actual objects
in the sky as "target objects", and the objects described by the
Hills as "perceived objects". Next I want us to imagine two
charts - one is a chart showing the positions of the target
objects, the other is a chart of the perceived objects. The
first chart I'll refer to as the "base", the second I'll call
the "template".

Now, we have the task of matching the base to the template in
some way which is permitted by the processes of visual
perception. Since the position of the Moon is uncontroversial,
let's put the template Moon over the base Moon and put a pin
through it. (Let's assume the template is transparent).

Ok, so far so good. How do we go about making a match?

Firstly we have to choose a scaling factor. By how much should
we scale distances on the template to match the base? Already we
have a problem, because there isn't any real constraint to
choose any particular number - so we are free to choose more or
less any number we please, or more to the point, any number
which enables us to make a match. That's not a good start, but
let's carry on.

Next we need to choose a rotation angle. How much do we turn the
template to match it with the base? Well we know at least one of
the objects was below the Moon, so that constrains us to a
degree, but not all that much - only to within, say, sixty or
ninety degrees. And thirdly, we need to choose an error
displacement - by how much can we move each perceived point to
match it up to the target point? This obviously depends on the
error function of the observers, which will presumably be a two-
dimensional Gaussian of unknown standard deviation - in other
words, effectively unconstrained.

Now the position of the Moon is fixed, so we only have two
points left to define the alignment. And yet we already have
three more or less complete degrees of freedom in how they can
vary. So we actually have more ways to manipulate the points
than we have points to manipulate.

Statistically, this is already starting to look extremely

For example, we have two possible locations on the base which
could conceivably be matched to the object of the template
referred to by the Hills as a "star". It could be either Jupiter
or Saturn. Can we compute the relative likelihood of each?

Unfortunately no, we can't.

Why not? Well, assuming we can choose a scale factor and a
rotation factor, and that these are uncontroversial (which is
questionable in itself, don't forget) let's call the distance
between the perceived object known as the "star", and the target
object "Saturn" ds. Let's call the distance between the "star"
and Jupiter dj. Now, the relative likelihood of ds as opposed to
dj depends on the ratio of the value of the observer error
function at those two points. Since this is a Gaussian, we need
to find the ratio of G(ds) to G(dj).

But this ratio depends on the average gradient of G between ds
and dj. And that depends on the shape of the Gaussian, which in
turn is controlled by the variance of the observer error.

But we don't know the observer error. In fact as we've seen,
we're actually free to choose whatever value of the error
variance we want to get a match. And further more, we've done
this after the fact - that is, post hoc.

If all this seems rather technical, well we can get a much
cruder impression of what is going on by making some
simplifications. Instead of describing the observer error as a
Gaussian function, let's simply postulate an error boundary -
 some distance from the target object which gives the maximum
displacement which can occur in a measurement due to error.
Let's assume that the perceived object is equally likely to be
located at any point within the boundary (which is obviously
wrong, but does actually seem to be the way in which many
ufologists - including many self-declared skeptics - regard the
visual system). Let's refer to the distance of the error
boundary as E. Then we can try out some numbers.

Let's say ds is two degrees, and dj is four degrees. On the face
of it, ds would appear more plausible than dj.

But what if E were one degree? Then both dj and ds are ruled out
as error values and neither Jupiter nor Saturn would be
allowable as a match. Obviously the star must be either Jupiter
or Saturn, so that value of E is untenable.

What if E is three degrees? In that case, you are very happy
because ds is allowable and dj is ruled out, so the "star" must
be Saturn. But what if E happens to be five degrees? In that
case both ds and dj are equally likely and your match has no
statistical value. So it all depends on the value of E - a
completely indeterminable parameter.

In reality, of course, for the value of E, read the variance of
the error function.

But, if the "star" is Jupiter, then what about Saturn? Isn't it
rather coincidental (as you appear to think) that it happens to
be in just the right place?

Not really. Because it isn't actually in just the right place,
it's in approximately the right place, and how coincidental it
is depends, once again, on the observer error function. This is
what I meant when I said that one could always find a match for
a given set of three points in the night sky. The starry sky has
a distribution function which will give the probability of
finding a certain number of stars of specific magnitudes in a
given area of sky. That function pretty much guarantees that you
will find a match for any particular point if you search long
enough within a large enough area - and since the error variance
(or boundary) has been determined post-hoc, that area can be
arbitrarily large. We can arbitrarily choose the boundary to be
large enough to include the first reasonably bright object we
find, but not large enough to include all the other stars in the
sky also.

Of course, we might get over the odds if the first star we find
happens to be a couple of magnitudes brighter than the average
the distribution function for the night sky would predict, but
is that really significant? I wouldn't bet on it. Especially
since to take that into account, we would have to determine the
error function for the brightness post-hoc as well.

But, you might say, surely it's significant that we find only
one object in the sky below Jupiter, and not several?

Well, no. Because we didn't actually predict that there would be
one (1) object in the sky below Jupiter, we predicted that there
would be *an* object in the sky below Jupiter. We said nothing
at all about how many other objects might also have been in the
sky below Jupiter, whether they were dimmer and closer, or
brighter and further away. (Had we found an object that was both
brighter and closer, then of course we would simply have
declared the observer error variance to be less.) So we cannot,
after the fact, declare that the number of objects found in the
sky below Jupiter is significant - because had we found several
objects in the sky below Jupiter, we would obviously have
declared the number of objects to be non-significant.

I know much of this is probably counter-intuitive, but I hope it
serves to illustrate why what seems at first sight to be an
impressive match, is actually, statistically almost worthless.

In fact, the only number we can compute is the probability that,
of two objects in the sky, one will be below the other and the
lower one will be dimmer. Probability slightly less than 50%.
Not exactly impressive, is it? Especially when you have to weigh
against that the considerations below.

>>In fact, the brightness of Jupiter only adds in another problem
>>for the "Jupiter" explanation. According to the description in
>>"The Interupted Journey", Betty Hill at first saw a star or
>>planet close to the Moon, and later on noticed another object
>>above the star.

>Which she also described as a "star". They were travelling in a
>car, Saturn was only 9 degrees above a perfect sea horizon.
>Horizon obtructions, or clouds for that matter, undoubtedly
>blocked the view at times on their drive.

I'm sure they did, but that isn't the point. Your hypothesis
requires that both the Moon and Saturn would have been visible
and close together, but the bright object almost in between them
would have been obscured. It's this combination of circumstances
which seems to me most unlikely - especially from a moving
vehicle. It sounds rather like special pleading.

However, I'm not saying that your hypothesis is untenable for
the initial observation, just rather unlikely. For example, in
visual search experiments, the brightest object isn't always,
only usually, the one that attracts attention first. But the
bright object is most likely to be missed when it's at the
periphery of a large visual field, and when there are a large
number of distractors - neither of which, by your own admission,
is the case here.

>>One of the features of the image segmentation process I
>>described before, is that the objects which "pop out" of the
>>visual display are those which are most dissimilar to the
>>background. In this case, that obviously means the biggest and
>>brightest objects. So the two pop-out objects should have been
>>the Moon and Jupiter, and not the Moon and Saturn as the
>>"Jupiter" hypothesis would require.

>You are assuming a completely static display. They were in a
>moving car, with changing horizon obstructions. If one planet
>was too low to be seen (Saturn), how would she know that the one
>that she could see was the "brightest". Why weren't there three
>stars reported (two planets and the UFO)?

Well, this appears to be a change of story. So now it's Jupiter
which was the star at the time of the initial observation, which
presumably means that during the second observation the star was
relocated to Saturn and Jupiter became the UFO. I certainly
won't deny that this is possible, but it's a considerably more
cumbersome theory than the original, requiring still more post-
hoc assumptions about the error variances in the observer's
estimate of brightness and position - and therefore, even more

>It is clear that she at not time reported the number of star-
>like object needed to have a UFO.

Bob, I've already explained to you how easily this can happen.

>>Of course, one can't be sure of this - Jupiter might have been
>>obscured behind a cloud, or a tree, or the rear-view mirror, or
>>anything, during the first observation - but given the
>>configuration you describe, with Jupiter effectively in the
>>center of the alignment and Saturn at the edge, that actually
>>seems extremely unlikely.

>"Extremely unlikely"? Two star-like objects are described,
>below the Moon, when no stars could be seen. Two planets,
>bright enough to be seen, are known to have been below the
>Moon. The upper one brighter than the lower one, matching
>the description of the Hills. At no time were three star-like
>objects reported. "Extremely likely" to be the planet Jupiter
>is more like it.

I accept that you think it's extremely likely, Bob, but I think
it's clear that conclusion isn't scientifically supportable.
Possible, yes. Extremely likely, no.

>Myopic cycle? You are prepared to ignore what can be known
>because the witness had a subsequent tale? This is a recipe for
>non-investigation. If this were the only way to proceed, no UFO
>sighting ever reported would have been discovered to have been
>prosaic, because subsequently, the witness had claimed that it
>was a UFO.

>I don't know how many actual UFO sighting reports you have ever
>investigated, but the overwhelming majority, if one has up-to-
>date information and enough time to devote, turn out to be
>various prosaic explanations. We would be nowhere if "myopic"
>methods of identifying prosaic stimuli had been ignored because
>we believed in the infallibility of unsupported eyewitness

It's myopic to argue indefinitely about matters which cannot be
established one way or the other to any meaningful degree of
probability. And that, Bob, is exactly what you're doing by
obsessing about this statistically meaningless, post-hoc
pattern-matching exercise and ignoring the features of the later
part of the sighting which falsify the hypothesis you're

Maybe this interminable discussion is starting to indicate to you
how utterly pointless this sort of thing is.

>Oh, come on. A bizarre tale of little alien spacemen only
>surfacing after months of reading saucer book folklore
>"falsifies" a report of a "star" located just where a planet was
>in the sky? I don't buy it.

Don't be silly Bob, I'm not talking about the hypnosis sessions.
To start with, we have Barney Hill's description of windows and
"Nazis", and the increase in diameter of the object during the
sighting. (It's the increase that's important, not the actual
dimensions given.)

According to TIJ, Betty Hill observed the object pass in front of
the Moon. If this is right, then that alone is enough to falsify

>But then, this case is one of the classics, and is a microcosm
>of the flying saucer conundrum. More than 50 years of
>sightings, claims and investigations and not still not one
>single unequivacly proven alien visit.

Actually, I agree with you on this, at least up to a point.
 What conclusions one can draw from it are another matter, but
all of the theories I've seen so far involve extravagant,
unprovable hypotheses - whether extraterrestrials with near-
magical technologies, geophysical explanations that never
actually predict anything but mysteriously manage to explain
everything after the fact, or exotic psycho-social mechanisms
with no discernible scientific basis.

Personally I rather like the ETH, but that's because of some
rather complicated reasoning involving the Fermi paradox. I
certainly wouldn't claim it's proven. In fact I wonder if it's
provable even in principle, since extraterrestrials would
undoubtedly have access to many technologies which we don't, and
asserting the existence of a technology about which we know
nothing inevitably involves a vast number of propositions whose
probability (or improbability) we can't even quantify.


"There are none so gullible as a devout sceptic"
                          -- Francois Bernieres

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