Thursday, August 16, 2018
The passing of Michael Persinger
The news of the passing of Michael Persinger has renewed interest in his UFO-related theories about electromagnetism and its effects on the human brain.
I am sad to learn of his passing, and even though we disagreed on his Tectonic Strain Theory (TST) of UFOs, there is no question that he was instrumental in advancing UFOs into scientific discourse. His dozens of scientific papers published in peer-reviewed journals are proof that the subject of UFOs can be discussed in a scientific forum.
His book Space-Time Transients and Unusual Events, written with his partner Ghislaine Lafrenière, was a breakthrough work on the relationship between disparate Fortean phenomena and physiological effects.
But he was quite wrong.
This isn't just an offhand opinion. I spent many months researching and studying Persinger's work, going through data and testing his theory. I even published a thesis on the TST, quantifying the energy requirements that would allow seismic strain to release energy viewable as UFOs. (The complete thesis, including its tables, charts, and formulae, is no longer online.)
I spoke with Persinger's own actual PhD thesis advisor, who walked me through his research on the effects of magnetic fields upon the brains of mice. When I showed him the many articles Persinger was publishing about the TST and resultant UFOs, ghosts, religious experiences, and even increased rates of cancer, he was appalled.
Persinger's advisor encouraged me to publish a critical article in the same scientific journal, describing my concerns and analyses. I did, and the result was a series of articles debating the nature of UFOs, all published in scientific literature, almost completely unnoticed by ufology.
Basically, Persinger believed that tectonic strain deep within the Earth could generate electromagnetic fields, and these fields could move around underground but occasionally reach the surface where energy could be released and cause tangible effects. Sometimes, the energy would be visible as UFOs (orbs, dancing lights, plasmas, or earthquake lights), and sometimes, the EM fields would affect human brains to make people believe they had seen UFOs. And not just UFOs, but aliens, disembodied voices, ghosts, encounters with God, and paranormal phenomena. And yes, even apparent UFO abductions.
Essentially, all Forteana could be explained by tectonic strain.
Now, there are some scientific studies that show human brains can indeed be affected by EM fields and energy. And in the physical environment, anecdotally, it is assumed that magnetism can give rise to light phenomena such as orbs and spook lights. The renewed interest in "magnetic anomalies" as presented at some UFO conference is evidence of this. I also researched Hessdalen in detail, as well as other famous spooklights, like Brown Mountain, Taber, and others.
But with a background in physics, while I was most interested in seeing a scientific explanation for UFOs, the energy requirements to produce the effects as laid out by the TST didn't seem reasonable. So, I deepened my research, and my calculations showed there were some serious problems in the energy requirements.
But that's not what really worried me.
It was discovering a published article by Persinger that used my own UFO report data to show a correlation between UFOs and earthquakes. And I knew immediately that Persinger's theory was nonsense.
Persinger (and his co-author John Derr) stated explicitly that "most well-documented [UFOs] refer to actual geophysical phenomena that are generated by tectonic strain." He used my data as published in the Manitoba UFO Catalogue for UFO reports from 1974 to 1977, mostly in the area around Carman, Manitoba, Canada. (This was the infamous "UFO wave" of "Charlie Red Star" UFO sightings currently expounded in some UFO forums.)
Persinger demonstrated that the increase in UFO numbers during the Carman flap was correlated with a moderate earthquake almost 500 kilometres away in southern Minnesota, but which occurred weeks after the UFOs were reported. Persinger concluded that there was a "temporal displacement" combined with a "geographical displacement" that made the correlation valid. In other words, any UFO reported in Carman was connected with an earthquake hundreds of kilometres away and several weeks before or after the UFO sighting. In fact, Persinger used earthquake data from as far away as 1250 kilometres in order to get a good fit for his results. That was like saying a small UFO orb witnessed in Chicago could be explained by a slight tremor near Detroit a month earlier.
Which, of course, was fudging the data.
That being said, the data itself was a problem. I should know, because it was my data, and I knew its limitations.
The Manitoba UFO Catalogue (MANUFOCAT, patterned after UFOCAT), included raw UFO report data, including both explained and unexplained UFO cases. In fact, it was mostly explained cases. (Yes, even most of the "Charlie Red Star" UFO reports could be explained.)
So how could misidentifed airplanes, stars, meteors, and satellites be correlated to mostly weak, distant earthquakes in an entirely different country? They couldn't. And Manitoba is seismically inactive, so there was little chance regional seismic effects could manifest as UFOs.
And back to the energy problem. While tremendous amounts of energy are released during major earthquakes, pressure among tectonic plates deep underground (tens of kilometres or miles beneath the Earth) does build up and release every day. Persinger was correct in suggesting that EM fields and energy within the Earth could move about, and he used this basis to explain how such energy could manifest a a UFO in Carman one day, then travel back underground to where an actual seismic event could occur very far away and months later. And the energy requirements to have such energy bursts leap out of the ground and fly over grassy meadows for several minutes would be very significant.
But then, why aren't there more UFOs seen around seismically active areas? Physics says that the path of least resistance is the one preferred, and if there's enough energy to create a UFO or affect someone's brain, then the seismic energy should be released nearby, too. Plus, why only one or two witnesses (on average), when a large EM field can extend for miles?
Anyway, Persinger responded to my criticism in print, too. The debate raged for a while, and we tacitly agreed to disagree.
I wasn't the only one to find the TST lacking, though. (A debunker, too.) But undaunted, Persinger continued to publish dozens of papers on the subject, ignoring his critics.
For example, getting too near to a UFO can kill you.
Or is it simply that UFOs cause cancer or can make UFO witnesses depressed.
And, even UFOs and other phenomena in areas near Skinwalker Ranch can be explained by seismic effects, much to the likely chagrin of fans of the current interest in the area, including Bigelow properties.
Persinger later developed the so-called "God helmet," which created an EM field that caused those wearing it to have out-of-body-experiences, sense ghostly apparitions, and hear voices.
(Except it didn't work all the time, either. Many people using it only reported feeling a bit disoriented. But no ghosts, aliens, or deities. And when a science journalist tested the device, it didn't really work at all, and it was his opinion that only people who were greatly suggestible would experience the faux paranormal effects.)
So, while I am saddened to hear of his passing, I recognize that the legacy of Michael Persinger is very mixed. He advanced a theory to explain UFOs without invoking the extraterrestrial hypothesis, but instead replaced it with a scientific-sounding concept that used inadequate methodology and data.
But he will remain known as a scientist who made a significant contribution to ufology.
Monday, August 13, 2018
The 2018 Shag Harbour UFO Conference
Graham Simms, me, and Palmiro Campagna getting some Canadian coffee
Yes, lobster poutine. If you have to ask how many calories, don't even try.
Just before opening the doors.
The pizza gang, L-R:
David Cvet, Chris Styles, Graham Simms, Laurie Wickens, Palmiro Campagna, me, Justin Brown
Me and David Cvet
Palmiro Campagna with Linda Rafuse (on far right)
Me with a jetlagged Ted Roe
Paul's ever-present, invisible friend Zorgrot was at the conference too. I saw nothing.
Coast Guard ship at dusk, with Venus shining brightly overhead.
Wednesday, July 18, 2018
The 2017 Canadian UFO Survey
The 2017 Canadian UFO Survey is out, and it has some interesting results. But what's more interesting is the reaction of UFO fans.
I'll get to that, but first, some of the results of the UFO report analyses:
There were 1,101 UFO sightings reported in Canada in 2017, or more than three each day. This is the fifth year in a row that UFO reports in Canada are at or above this level.
I was actually surprised at this, because the huge pile of reports on my desk seemed to suggest there were more than usual this year. However, that was just an eyeballing of the pile. This year, with the exception of a small number of reports, I looked through, coded, and entered all the data, so instead of having bunches of reports at data processors, I had them all, for the first time in a number of years.
What this large number tells us is that UFOs are continually being reported at a very high level. I know that some statistical reports on UFOs in other countries are saying that the number of reports is declining, but that is simply not true in Canada. Since we began compiling the annual Canadian UFO Survey in 1989, the trend has been constantly upward, with a few notable outliers. This is most visible in a graph generated by CBC for its story on the 2017 Survey. (en francais)
The data itself, the huge list of UFO reports from 2017, is here. It was converted by Geoff Dittman into a PDF and put up online on the Survey website.
Quebec had an all-time record high number of UFOs reported in 2017, with 518 reports, up from 430 cases in 2016. In comparison, Ontario had 241 reports, BC had 128, and both New Brunswick and Nova Scotia had 27 cases each. There were even two reports from Northwest Territories and three from Yukon.
The result reflects the continuing trend of UFO report numbers following a population distribution. The higher the population density, the more people to potentially be able to see and report a UFO in the sky. But 2017 had a significant anomaly.
The fact that Quebec had the highest number of sightings may appear strange, but that province currently has the most efficient UFO reporting websites and its groups have a very public presence. UFO groups there also have regular and frequent TV appearances and public workshops on the subject.
Also, the Quebec overrepresentation of UFOs is partly due to a bright fireball late in 2017 that was seen by dozens and dozens of people and reported as a UFO.
[NB: At one time, BC also had far too many reports for its population, but that was mostly because Brian Vike was very often quoted in newspapers and on TV about the subject, plus he very successfully publicized his group HBCCUFO in many public forums.]
There is an overall average of two witnesses per UFO sighting.This is often overlooked as being insignificant, but it's actually very revealing. It means that most UFO sightings are not simply something seen by a lone person out for a drive, but there's someone else in the car who also sees the UFO. It attests to the reality of the event. One person was not simply hallucinating.
This average number of witnesses declined a bit last year. The actual number was something like 1.7, down from previous years where it had been closer to two. So we are getting more reports from individuals. This may reflect a trend where people are more willing to go on record as seeing a UFO themselves. Perhaps this is a sign of the times, that the stigma of seeing a UFO is lessening.
The typical UFO sighting lasted approximately 15 minutes in 2017.
This duration varies slightly from year to year, depending on whether there were more short-or long-duration events reported, obviously. Duration is a good indication of possible explanations for reported UFOs.
This is because short-duration events of only a few seconds are almost always things like meteors or bolides. Reports where the object seen was observed for in excess of about 30 minutes (in some cases hours) are inevitably stars or planets. It's the ones with durations of about a minute to several minutes that are the most interesting. That's long enough for a witness to get a good look at the UFO and note characteristics that would rule out aircraft, satellites and whatnot.
The study found that 43 per cent of all UFO sightings were of simple lights in the sky. Witnesses also reported spheres, cigars, and boomerangs.
I'm still trying to decide how to group these better. A diamond is a tilted square, for example. Boomerang includes V-shaped objects and chevrons. Is a round object a sphere? Did the witness mean a Frisbee? Cigars can also be cylinders.
The large number of point source UFOs include those that some witnesses describe as "orbs," even though there's no way a witness can determine if a distant light is spherical or not. Most reports of distant lights moving in the sky are point sources, and when a witness uses the term "orb" it's usually because he or she is a UFO fan and is using the term as convention. UFOs that turn out to be Chinese lanterns are very often called orbs, but of course are not spherical.
In 2017, about eight per cent of all UFO reports were judged unexplained. This percentage of “unknowns” falls to less than one per cent when only higher-quality cases are considered.This was what everyone wanted to know. How many reports are "real UFOs?"
This is where we get into trouble. Is eight per cent too low or too high?
Why are half the reports labeled as Insufficient Evidence? Because, quite simply, few reports are adequately or fully investigated. This can be debated by UFO groups, but let's face it, Canada is a huge country, and well-trained UFO investigators are few and far between. In a large urban area like Toronto, sure, regional reports can be followed up. But a case in Wawa? Likely not. Saskatchewan? Not at all.
It should also be noted that the data points for Conclusions were set through a review of available information on the reports. Obviously, case investigation reports on file with specific UFO organizations are not available for review, but in some instances, we know that there has been detailed investigation and analyses, so that helps decide if something is a high quality report and allows a categorization of Unexplained or Possible Explanation, or whatever. If witnesses' statements are available, that helps. If there is an indication that official investigators were involved, even better. But if all we have is a one-liner that an anonymous witness says an orb flew over him at high speed, it's not high on the Reliability or Strangeness scale.
While media coverage of the 2017 Survey results was overwhelmingly positive, it's the ufology community that was the most critical.
The very first comment I saw in a UFO Facebook group was something along the line of "Rutkowski is just blowing steam. Nothing of substance. He has no idea what people are seeing."
To which I respond: "Hunh?"
Then there were some who were offended that I didn't include their sightings among the High-Quality Unknowns. Even if all they actually saw were lights moving in the night sky.
The debunkers took up the gauntlet of focusing on the 10 High Quality Unknowns as a challenge to explain them away, so that there were no Unknowns left.
(One of these, in fact, was explained by MUFON, although I didn't find out until after the Survey was published.)
But overall, the 2017 Survey was acknowledged by most ufologists as a good effort to try and understand what Canadians had seen last year.
And really, that's all it is.
I started out by wondering, back in 1989, what a national overview of UFO reports might look like. There were many groups with their own collections of reports, but no one had tried to gather them all together. So I contacted all the active UFO investigators and researchers in Canada that I knew about, and asked them to help in my study.
There was reluctance, of course, because of distrust and proprietary ownership of witnesses' reports, but I soon was able to get a nice set of Canadian UFO data. It helped that the Archives Canada provided easy access to UFO reports from the National Research Council. (I've noted this before; that there was no need for "Disclosure" in Canada because all officially-reported UFO reports were always available to serious researchers.)
The annual Canadian UFO Survey started simply as a way to count how many UFOs were being reported, and how the reports were distributed across the country.
There were also some objections from people who "know" that there were more UFOs seen than reported, therefore the Survey is inaccurate.
In a sense, that's true, because polls, including one organized by Geoff Dittman and myself, found that only about 10 per cent of UFO witnesses actually report their experiences.
I've made it clear many times that what the Survey looks at is what people report as UFOs. Whether they file an official report with a government agency or simply fill out an online UFO report form with one of several major UFO groups on their websites, the witness is reporting seeing a UFO.
Not that they've seen an alien spaceship, only that they report seeing an unidentified flying object.
One critic quibbled with the definition of UFO used in the Survey, noting that a "proper" definition of UFO includes a caveat that only a report that has been investigated by experts who eliminated all explanations can be considered a "real" UFO report. By that standard, there are virtually no UFOs on record. (Debunkers will agree.)
Again, what the Survey measures is what witnesses report as UFOs. And what UFO organizations list as UFO reports on their websites.Even the Canadian military files sightings of UFOs by civilians and troops as "UFO Reports."
Soon after I began collecting UFO report data, it made sense to include data points for shapes, colour, duration, etc. And since no other country was doing this systematically in a similar way at the time, it was viewed as a way to develop a tool for understanding the UFO phenomenon. Also, I thought this could be a way to compare Canadian UFO data with other UFO data sets, including Blue Book and others.
And so, after nearly 30 years, we are approaching 20,000 Canadian UFO reports on file during this period. Blue Book operated between 1952 and 1970, about 18 years, and it collected about 12,000 UFO reports worldwide.
20K / 30 = 66612K / 18 = 666Same ratio.
Monday, June 04, 2018
It's Lake Monster season!
I was interviewed recently about Manipogo, Manitoba's version of the Loch Ness monster.
As part of my research into Manitoba Forteana, I included a chapter about Manipogo (and friends) in my book Unnatural History.
I investigated some reports of the creature, and even did a TV special for CKND (now Global TV) many years ago.
Well, the interest is still there! CBC says so!
Have you seen Manipogo?
Labels: Manipogo Manitoba Forteana
Saturday, May 05, 2018
When UFOs and music meet
Music and the Saucer
On Sunday, April 29, 2018, an original choral work was premiered in Iles-des-Chenes, Manitoba, Canada. The Seine River Singers, accompanied by a small orchestra, presented Burns From Beyond, a musical retelling of the UFO experience of Stefan Michalak in 1967 at Falcon Lake.
I and Stefan's son Stan Michalak, accompanied by our wives, were invited to sit front and centre at the performance. We were introduced at the sold-out event by the composer, Stephen Haiko-Pena, who explained how he had been reading our book about the case, When They Appeared, when he had been asked to compose "something new" for the choir. (We were honoured when he held up his copy of our book.)
Our book was his inspiration for the choral work, and he created the five-part "opera," focusing on Stefan Michalak's own words from his original booklet and reprinted in our book.
Stan (on the right) visited the site of his dad's experience for the first time in 2017.
The entire choral work was recorded that night and the video has been uploaded for viewing.
Haiko-Pena's introduction is here.
The choral work Burns From Beyond is here. The entire script is in the link as well.
The website of composer Stephen Haiko-Pena is here.
Thursday, April 12, 2018
Another 1967 case: Glace Bay, Nova Scotia
Still poking around in the National Archives, I found yet another documented UFO case from 1967, this time from Glace Bay, Nova Scotia.
Not only that, but the submitter of the report helpfully provided a map of Glace Bay, showing where the UFO was sighted.
And the reply from DND?
Well, that was that.
Except... Alistair Scott didn't give up. Also in the file is a set of answers to questions apparently posed by Scott to DND, prodding them for more information. His letter with the questions isn't on file, by DND's answers are:
Thursday, March 29, 2018
An increase in media interest in UFOs?
Labels: UFO media newspapers statistics