VOL. 22 NO. 2 FALL 2009
Alien "Devil" Sightings
Media in southwest Florida, including WBBH-TV 2, the NBC affiliate in Fort Myers, have been covering the claims of Michael Rowley and his 16-year-old son Shane, regarding alien creatures that for several months have allegedly been lurking in the woods behind their home.
On August 3, WBBH reported that the Rowleys had moved to North Port in April. "I'm retired and I thought this was where you're supposed to go," Michael told them. "The only bad part is the aliens around here." And he wasn't referring to those of Mexican persuasion.
Rather, these red-eyed visitors, with the ability to fly (though no wings have yet been spotted), would seem to have emigrated from a bit further away. And the Rowleys have been rendered fearful of going outside at night, with most of their sightings taking place through windows.
A plaster cast of a footprint from one of the cloven-hoofed aliens, dubbed the "North Port Devil," is the only significant physical evidence garnered thus far. No photographs of the creatures have been taken, though a videotape of the forested area is purported to show a reflection of an eye. "They kind of show up when they want," Shane told WBBH. "You get used to them, but it is weird to see them walking around the woods with those big eyes."
The case had already piqued the interest of the Mutual UFO Network, which by May 26 had published the findings of its Florida affiliate's "Initial Field Investigation." Authored by "Morgan A. Bell, MUFON Field Investigator," the three-page report contains this additional detail:
Shane [the 16-year-old] is the primary witness.
The author of this initial MUFON report concluded that "the exact nature of these
1. Have witnesses participate in a lie detection test
The fourth item relates to the alleged "missing time," a hallmark of UFO-abduction stories. The report added that "motion activation camera systems will be deployed randomly to help assess the case further."
During its 11 p.m. newscast on August 21, WBBH began its update on the case with this announcement: "The North Point man who claims his home is being visited by aliens has been exposed as a fraud. The paranormal investigator looking into this case says the homeowner made the whole thing up to make a quick buck." This "investigator" is not the one from MUFON, but someone named Eric Patterson, about whom I have been able to discover precious little, but in whose name the following August 27 comment was posted on the (Sarasota) HeraldTribune.com "De Void" blog: "I am here to make a public apology to Mr. Rowley relating to my previous comments."
However, the same blog contains this August 14 post from "Florida MUFON":
This case has been dropped by MUFON
Regarding this "conflict of interest," the August 21 WBBH story added, "Rowley is now selling $22 alien T-shirts on his website and he is also trying to sell the plaster cast he made of the supposed footprint to the highest bidder. He hopes to bring in $1-million for it."
Our Summer issue contained an essay, "Another View of Skepticism," by the always interesting writer and ufologist James W. Moseley. His description of his own private tests of psychic abilities struck a very familiar chord with me. I too had once engaged in similar efforts, but I came away with a much different conclusion.
Moseley related some experiments he had done several times with Dom Lucchesi, a self-acknowledged "hoaxer" (at times) and supposed psychic. Admitting that Lucchese often used simple parlor tricks in demonstrating his alleged "psychic ability" to identify playing cards held by the experimenter, Moseley goes on to claim that there were occasions where such simple tricks could not explain the seemingly eerie ability of Mr. Lucchese to successfully read minds.
Moseley writes that he himself once engaged in his own private version of "ESP" with cards, and after "warming up," was able during a short run of his self-test to successfully identify playing cards in a deck before turning them over. "Unnerved" by this experience which he could not understand, he writes that soon the "spell" was broken and "the power disappeared forever." His conclusion? ESP is "extremely fragile and unpredictable," no one has "all the answers," and we skeptics are "too rigid to even consider such heresy."
His story reminded me of my own credulous moment when I was a young boy in the 1950s interested in science, UFOs and psychic phenomena. Life magazine at that time carried a large illustrated article about some studies at the Rhine Institute seemingly showing that some people possessed psychic abilities. I was fascinated and decided to do my own experiment in psychokinesis, the alleged ability to control physical objects with only the power of one's mind. I took a numbered six-sided die and tried to see if I could make the die come up with a pre-specified number. I of course knew that the chance of any particular number randomly coming up was exactly one in six. I chose the number four and began rolling.
At first I detected no particular pattern and became discouraged. I decided that I wasn't concentrating hard enough, so I redoubled my mental efforts. Suddenly the number four started coming up with uncommon frequency. I remember that it seemed as though the die was trying to end up with a four in obedience to my mental commands. I remember getting goose bumps as I felt I was on the verge of a great personal discovery about the mysterious workings of the universe. When the die stopped "listening" to my mind, I concentrated harder and the power seemed to reappear.
As the junior scientist I imagined myself to be, I decided to keep proper track of my data so that I could prove to the world that psychokinesis was a real phenomenon. I began to record the results of each throw of the die. After doing this for about 100 throws I examined my results. To my chagrin, I saw that the number of "fours" that came up was about one in six. Sure there were occasions where a run of successive fours seemed to crop up, but not enough to throw the averages off. My psychokinesis disappeared into thin air.
This self-experiment was an important step in my development as a skeptic. In one fell swoop I learned the lessons of self-deception, improper data selection, and the need to rely on a scientific approach to such questions.
Each year, Professor Deborah Nolan of the University of California, Berkeley, asks her statistics students to divide into two groups. One group is asked to flip a coin 100 times and record the results. The other group is asked to do the same thing, but with an imaginary coin -- in other words, to simply invent and write down random results. Later presented with each pair of results, but not being told which was from actual coin tosses vs. imaginary tosses, Professor Nolan has so far been able -- every time -- to determine which was which. How? Because humans are poor generators of random lists.
Imaginary coin tosses usually end up looking something like this: H-T-H-T-T-H-T-H-H-T-H-T, i.e., what we think of as a random series. Actual random coin tosses, however, contain many more successive results such as: T-T-H-H-H-H-T-H-H-T-T-T. Looking at the actual random result, one who had been concentrating on "heads" could easily convince himself that the string of heads showed the presence of "psychic" power, and that the string of tails evidenced a lack of concentration, or perhaps even so-called "negative psi" power.
I'm anything but close-minded. And contrary to the claims of Mr. Moseley, there are no "heresies" in science, only reasonable conclusions based on actual data. If the day ever comes when the ability to control the roll of dice with mere thought is proven through carefully controlled experiments, psychokinesis will not be a heresy but rather will be accepted as a part of the natural world we live in, and natural explanations will be sought. Until that day comes, however, put me down as skeptical.
Can my experience be equated to Mr. Moseley's? Do I know with certainty that he was likewise the victim of self-delusion and selective memory? Of course not. But to conclude that such psychic phenomena are genuine though "fragile and unpredictable," or that known hoaxers are sometimes not engaged in trickery, are both poorly supported conclusions indeed. Sorry, Mr. Moseley. Neither of us has all of the answers, and neither of us is crazy, but we obviously don't approach such questions with the same full measure of appropriate skepticism. Trust the data, Mr. Moseley, not yourself.
If the following was intended as tongue-in-cheek, the St. Petersburg Times needs new comedy writers. Page 4A carried a 5 x 5-1/2" item, titled "Advice for world's leading Leo," which was introduced this way: "The president turns 48 today, and like everyone else, the stars have plenty of advice and observations. Here is what we dug up about people born on Aug. 4." It then divides its acquired astrological advice into five categories, including the following representative excerpts:
Overview: [Leos] prefer to do things their own way, even if this means hurting their chances for receiving accolades.
The following is no laughing matter, either. A few local chiropractors have begun treating patients suffering from severe allergies with the latest advancement in virtual medical science: the BAX-3000 laser. Dr. Micah T. Richeson, at Cypress Creek Chiropractic in Wesley Chapel, has recently spent $40,000 to purchase the miracle machine from a company called Virtual Medical Solutions, which headlined its News Release with this claim: "Revolutionary laser technology drastically improves allergy symptoms in 80% of patients." Something resembling a penlight, connected by a cable to a contraption the size of a computer modem, is held by the practitioner and its pea-sized beam focused on the patient's forehead. Each "treatment" costs $85 and lasts about a minute. From a Dunedin woman's testimonial about no longer needing allergy shots after 50 such treatments: "I saw immediate relief. The quality of my life has improved 100%." But Dr. Richard F. Lockey, professor of medicine, pediatrics and public health at the University of South Florida, where he also directs its allergy and immunology center, says, "I don't know of any scientific evidence that it's helpful."
This may be hard to believe, but it is now possible that your friendly neighborhood (if you live in St. Petersburg) soothsayer, fortune teller, palmist, astrologer, spirit medium, mental healer and the like may not necessarily be of "good moral character." One needn't have worried about this prior to June 4, but on that date -- which will live in infamy -- the City Council decided to remove, from a 1950s ordinance, the requirement of five such references for applicants seeking licenses to practice their otherworldly wares.
(St. Pete. Times, June 14)
Gary Posner was quoted in the June 6 St. Petersburg Times article, "A 'Medium Mom' Among the Mundane," about Massachusetts-based spirit-medium Maureen Hancock and her then-upcoming June 13 presentation in St. Petersburg titled "Postcards from Heaven" [here is the online version with a different title]. Identified in the article as "a former stand-up comic," Hancock is now deadly serious about her alleged ability to relay messages from the departed. She says, "I'm coming from a different place than a lot of psychics. I don't even like to associate myself with psychics." But Posner cautioned that "As enticing as it might be, and as much as you might want to believe it, there is no good scientific evidence that any of these psychics [including Hancock] are genuine."
Posner also fielded an August 24 e-mail inquiry from producer/director Toby Dye with ITN in London, who is working on a documentary for Discovery's The Learning Channel "giving particular emphasis to the potential harm that can befall vulnerable individuals who turn to so-called psychics for advice and counseling, particularly if they become addicted to the hotlines or fall victim to 'gypsy curse' scams."
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