I’m not sure why Stanton Friedman selected me as the subject of his writings these past couple of weeks.
I’m certainly not the first, or even the most articulate, to challenge his mission of promoting belief in alien visitation. Writing about Roswell last year, I referred to him as an obsessed UFO wacko, but he’s been called worse by others. Anyway he called me petty, ignorant, cavalier, lazy, biased, and an anti-UFO fanatic, so I guess we’re…even?
In his piece titled “Brian Dunning Running for Top UFO Debunker” this week, he called me “a skilled liar…. He deserves “Debunker of the Year” award.” (Why are conspiracy and paranormal web sites ALWAYS white text on a black background? I guess they don’t want them to be easily read by people whose eyes are older than 40 years.) Like Friedman, I do have a mission, but UFOs are hardly an interest of mine. Debunking, as I often say, has little value when done for its own sake. Frankly I don’t much care if someone prefers to think that every light in the sky is an alien spaceship. Debunking is only important, and valuable, when a belief is harmful or stands in the way of real scientific, technological, or humanitarian progress.
Believing that UFOs are aliens is not a particularly harmful belief. Indeed, it may even stimulate interest in aerospace development. But it can be part of a pattern of inability to distinguish useful evidence from poor evidence, and when that spreads to other aspects of believers’ lives, harm can be widespread as they start making important decisions based on bad information.
Everyone lies somewhere along the spectrum of what quality of evidence they’ll accept. Friedman and I seem to be pretty far apart on that spectrum. If I think he is too quick to accept ambiguous or anecdotal evidence as indisputable proof of something as extraordinary as alien visitation, I’ll admit I’m probably extraordinarily hard to be moved from the null hypothesis.
Interestingly, both ends of the spectrum accuse each other of similar irrationality. True believers accuse skeptics of ignoring evidence. Skeptics accuse true believers of believing anything they hear. If I have to be in one crazy end of the spectrum or another, I’ll happily stay in the “null hypothesis” camp. I’m open to any evidence you want to present, but if it’s ambiguous, explainable by known or natural phenomena, anecdotal or otherwise of poor quality, don’t expect me to adopt your beliefs. Even if you have lots of such evidence, mountains of such evidence: As I often say, you can stack cowpies as high as you want, they won’t turn into a bar of gold. Good evidence is composed of good evidence, not lots of bad evidence.
If the evidence is good, I’m easy to convince. Over the decades, I’ve absolutely changed my mind and accepted phenomena that I was certain were baloney. I didn’t believe in diamagnetism until I saw water suspended in a magnetic field at the Lawrence Berkeley labs. I didn’t believe the Judica-Cordiglia brothers could have made some of the space recordings they claimed until I learned about the controls that were in place during their recordings, and learned of some plausible explanations for the recordings. I spent 10 years fighting time dilation, claiming that there was no such thing, simply because I didn’t understand it, until I was finally illuminated. I’m not even ashamed to admit that NORAD’s Santa Claus radar reports had me reconsidering into my early teens.
But so far, I haven’t heard anything from Stan Friedman or any other true believer to encourage me to reconsider the null hypothesis on the Betty and Barney Hill story, or any other alien visitation claim. When something is real, it has properties that can be measured and detected. Even today, we can prove that the 1876 Battle of Little Big Horn took place, because we have the testable archeological proof; there is no reliance on anecdotal stories or hypnotic regression needed. I still await the first such testable shred of evidence of any alien visitation.