This weekend paranormal investigator Hal Puthoff, late of To the Stars Academy of Arts and Science, and later of Robert Bigelow’s UFO and afterlife research initiatives, published a paper on ultraterrestrials in the Journal of Cosmology, a low-quality paranormal journal designed to ape more prominent scholarly publications like the Journal of Cosmology and Astroparticle Physics. The journal’s poor reputation and mid-1990s online aesthetic are beyond our concern here. Instead, let’s take a look at Puthoff’s ideas about how to hunt and track antediluvian supernormal humanoids, such as Atlanteans and djinn.
The article starts with the assumption that there is an intelligent phenomenon interacting with humanity before listing possibilities for what this unknown intelligence may be: “It is currently unknown whether the phenomenon is exclusively extraterrestrial, extradimensional, crypto-terrestrial, demonic/djinn, proto/ancient human, time-travelers, etc., or some combination or mutation of any or all of these.” These possibilities do not reflect an objective evaluation of potential answers. After all, if they did, we would also include glitches in the code of a computer-based simulation, psychic projections from ultra-powerful telepaths, ghosts, etc. Instead, this list represents primarily the range of explanations currently favored by ufologists, stemming from the range of options Jacques Bergier and Louis Pauwels laid down in Morning of the Magicians, and tracing, ultimately, to medieval mythology. Nearly the whole range of potential Puthoff suggests can be found, for example, in the Akhbar al-zaman (c. 1000 CE), a medieval Arabic-language compendium of Late Antique and early medieval legends about otherworldly beings, djinn, antediluvian humans, etc.
Puthoff goes on to complain that several hypotheses, such as ancient astronauts and Atlanteans, “are not taken very seriously,” before proposing what he sees as a methodology to identify incorrect hypotheses. I won’t bore you with the details except to note that his critiques show an unduly limited imagination, one shaped by decades of stewing in UFO conspiracy literature, unleavened by reality. He fails to distinguish, for example, between how people would behave if they had real evidence of aliens or some other creatures and how they might behave if they merely believed that they did. Thus, for example, his speculation about government conspiracies, if true, would not be actual evidence of aliens, but only for the belief in aliens.
Here is his analysis of the ancient astronaut hypothesis:
(3) The Stranded or Colonizing ETs/”gods” Hypothesis: Telltale signatures might include evidence in myth for high-tech interpretation of claimed devices beyond human capability of the era to manufacture (e.g., nuclear-powered, algae production “manna machine” in Biblical times); hard evidence for isolated mountain bases, detectable by satellite signatures of fastwalker or UCT (uncorrelated target) flight paths, or anomalous undersea activity or bases detectable by distributed underwater monitoring systems; covert, elite group exercising occult/religious influence in society; evidence for buried, high-tech artifacts or locales with unusual signal/radiation characteristics here or off planet; etc.
Oh really? It would seem that the “interpretation” would be in the mind of the observer, not objectively identifiable data, since, as we all know, the Bible makes no mention of “nuclear-powered, algae production” machines, a fantasy concocted from whole cloth in recent decades. The other elements are equally poor evidence. An “elite group” at best proves a belief in ancient aliens rather than actual contact with them. Bases and undersea activity have no direct correlation to prehistoric alien visitors; they could be modern. Only high-tech artifacts would provide hard physical evidence, and none of alien manufacture has ever been shown to exist. All told, the whole set of supposed correlates reflects less what aliens might really do on Earth than what a human raised on twentieth century science fiction would imagine the aliens might do, replete with assumptions about alien behavior with no basis in evidence.
When Puthoff gets down to brass tacks in examining how to look for ultraterrestrials, which is to say Atlanteans, Nephilim, or Deros, through what he calls “traffic analysis”—counting and tracking hypothesized correlates of ultraterrestrial visitation, such as messages warning of nuclear danger—he makes an absolutely fundamental error. He does not propose any method for distinguishing between genuine ultaraterrestrial signatures and fakes and mistakes. Given that 75 years of UFO investigation has produced no genuine evidence of aliens but mountains of evidence for fraud and fantasy, this very basic error renders his system useless. The very first step must always be to identify what can be dismissed as false. Otherwise, you are not tracking ultraterrestrials, nor are you making a heat map of their activity; you are tracking belief in ultraterrestrials.
Because of this, Puthoff’s leap to the next stage—imagining ultraterrestrials’ motives and their desires, which he seems unable to recognize mirror contemporary political concerns and change with them—is utterly unwarranted and, again, another locus for the researcher’s bias to misdirect the investigation into the researcher’s own fantasies.
As science, Puthoff’s article is a laughable example of a researcher who has placed his own head squarely up his own ass. But as an example of how the pseudoscientists hunting space aliens on the government’s dime (or aspiring to do so again) misuse science and fail to recognize their own limits and biases, it is an invaluable window into exactly why ufology has failed for 75 years and will continue to fail as long as the government continues to patronize science fiction instead of science.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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