(Investigator 7, 1989 July)


Such headlines (the first from Science Digest August 1977, the third from National Enquirer December 14 1976) don't impress Robert Sheaffer. Walter Cronkite, newsreader and journalist, for example, was furious because the story about him had been completely made up.

Sheaffer interprets all UFO phenomena as hoaxes, lies, natural phenomena misinterpreted, mirages, balloons, aeroplanes, rationalizations, con jobs, imagination, lights shining on camera lens, etc.

Robert Sheaffer, author of The UFO Verdict and former vice president of the UFO Subcommittee of the American based Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, spoke in Adelaide on May 31. The audience numbered about 50.

"I've never seen any photos [of flying saucers] that were credible," said Sheaffer. "It's easy to fake photos. Project Bluebook collected 13,000 cases. Most were bad — like kids tossing hub caps."

The UFO craze, explained Sheaffer, began June 24 1947 when Kenneth Arnold reported seeing a boomerang-shaped object, or V-shaped, that "skipped like a saucer across water." People mistook Arnold as saying "looked like a saucer" and soon there was an avalanche of saucer-sighting reports.

Sheaffer showed slides of fake spaceships. They included ping pong balls, buttons, plates, color filter wheel, cheese container, etc. An effective method is to toss the item up during a bright moon using a half second exposure and a 1/1000 second flash. The flash lights up the "UFO" and the ½ second exposure records the moon. The flash "freezes" the UFO making it seem stationary. It's motion isn't registered on the photo because for most of the ½ second it's flying in the dark.

The UFO that Jimmy Carter saw in 1969 has been tracked down because Carter filled out the precise time and place on a form for a UFO organization. His "UFO" was exactly where the planet Venus was.

The book The Interrupted Journey and the film The UFO Incident are about Betty and Barney Hill who were allegedly abducted by aliens in September 1961. It was night in a lonely area and both were feeling edgy explained Sheaffer. Betty thought a light in the sky was following the car. In all stories of UFOs chasing cars it's always "my car" and never, "I saw a flying saucer follow his car." This is because stars and planets, being distant, appear stationary compared to the scenery moving passed and so seem to be keeping up with the car that a person is in.

Betty became hysterical and this influenced Barney. Through his binoculars he "saw" portholes and Nazis looking out. Frightened, they sped away. The Hills' story became surer and clearer in subsequent weeks when dozens of ufologists visited them, some spending the entire day with them. Betty began having nightmares based on the story she kept repeating. She also knew Barney's version better than he did and kept filling in what he didn't know. Hypnosis merely brought out Mrs Hill's fears and nightmares without revealing anything substantial. Twenty years later Betty still attended UFO conferences to show photos and over 200 slides taken by her during those years — many at a flying saucer landing site. John Oswald who went with her once reported that she was unable to distinguish a landed UFO from a street light.

The book Behind the Flying Saucers (1950) by Frank Scully about a 25 metre wide crashed saucer began in fraud. Scully relied entirely on reports by two men — Leo Ge Baur and Silas Newton. Newton was a con man trying to sell worthless oil wells. So he needed a cheap effective method of slushing out all suckers who might buy them. Hence the flying saucer story.

The Roswell Incident (1980) by Charles Berlitz and William Moore included a picture of US Air Force police leading a captive alien after a saucer crashed. The incident happened in July 1947 and included the finding of alien bodies and metallic pieces of the saucer. Sheaffer explained that all that crashed was a weather balloon and the rest is rumour. The picture of the "alien" comes from the German paper Wiesbaden Tagenblatt of April 1 1950 where it was published as an April Fools joke.

Sheaffer showed a slide of a "daylight fireball". Hundreds of people saw it and photographed it — even in motion picture. Most [UFO] sightings, in contrast, are in back yards by one or two people with millions of people nearby seeing nothing.

Haven't UFOs been tracked on radar? One incident, explained Sheaffer, was in Washington in 1952. That one was due to a temperature inversion. Now that radar is more sophisticated such events are rare.

What about the "UFO cover up"? Doesn't the US government have a gang of 12 men, "The Majestic Twelve", who confiscate evidence and silence all witnesses? Just another story, claimed Sheaffer, to explain away the absence of testable proof for saucers and aliens.