Apr 21 2009

Edgar Mitchell on UFOs Again

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Comments: 22

Someone should tell CNN that Edgar Mitchell claiming the US government is concealing evidence for contact with extraterrestrial life is not news. I know it makes for eye-catching headlines, and of course that is the point, but really – Mitchell has been going around to UFO groups making the same claims for years.

The only thing that separates Mitchell from your average UFO believer is that he is a former astronaut.  This gives his claims a superficial air of authority, but when you actually examine his claims you find that they are not based upon his tenure as an astronaut. It is not as if he met aliens while he was in orbit. He has been a bit coy about how his time at NASA plays into his claims. He leaves open the suggestion that he was privy to inside information about UFOs in NASA, but has nothing concrete to give. (NASA, of course, denies any cover up.)

Actually, the stories he is pushing lately have more to do with the fact that he grew up in Roswell, New Mexico. He claims that the citizens of Roswell were bullied by the US government to be silent about what they know – Roswell being the site of an alleged UFO crash in 1947. He says:

“(They) didn’t want to go to the grave with their story. They wanted to tell somebody reliable. And being a local boy and having been to the moon, they considered me reliable enough to whisper in my ear their particular story.”

Wow – uncorroborated second-hand anecdotes. That is just what UFO claims need to gain credibility. And that is really all he has – second-hand stories. No evidence. He explains the lack of evidence by invoking the big, dark, government conspiracy, involving at least NASA and the Pentagon.

There are many reasons to be skeptical of Michell’ claims. The first, of course, is that there is no compelling evidence of a crashed saucer at Roswell in 1947. All of the hard evidence is compatible with the official story (which was initially covered up for national security reasons) – a crashed weather balloon carrying a corner reflector that was being used by project Mogul to spy on Soviet nuclear testing.  The crashed saucer story was sparked by the off-hand remarks of an army press officer, but quickly died as the truth (actually a more plausible lie – the secret project Mogul was sold as a regular weather balloon) came to light. The story was resurrected decades later by UFO authors, and as UFO mythology evolved the details were retrofitted into the Roswell story.

In general UFO believers, like Mitchell, find the stories that some people tell about Roswell, long after the fact, to be compelling, while skeptics do not. In my opinion this stems largely from an inadequate appreciation on the part of the believers for how stories can be manufactured and propagated, how memories can morph over time, and how mythologies can spontaneously come into existence, spread, and evolve.

The Roswell tale has all the hallmarks of a modern mythology. That does not mean, however, that part of the story cannot also be true. Historians deal with this conundrum all the time – every culture has its stories and legends, but which ones are based upon historical events, and how have those events been distorted. What we need are objective pieces of evidence that can confirm specific elements of the Roswell story. And that is exactly what we do not have.

We have claims that such evidence exists, but that it is being covered up by the government. But we don’t have the evidence itself. There are no pieces of a spaceship with extraterrestrial alloys, no alien bodies, not even any photographs or video of these things. We do have photographs of wreckage that looks like a mundane corner reflector, however.

As I have discussed in other contexts before, I also do not find claims for a massive conspiracy compelling.  This is too casually used to explain the lack of any compelling evidence, and to dismiss evidence that supports non-UFO conclusions. To clarify (I always have to do this), I do not categorically dismiss the possibility of a cover up or conspiracy. Clearly they exist – and in this case the US Government covered up Project Mogul for years.

However, conspiracies become harder to maintain the larger they become. A crashed saucer and aliens at Roswell would require a huge conspiracy of silence over many decades, agencies, and administrations. I frankly don’t think our government has the capability of maintaining such a large cover up for so long. There would be too many opportunities for hard evidence to leak out. You would also have to believe in a shadow government, free from the oversight of elected officials, to accept such a conspiracy.

I have also never found compelling the motivation for such a cover up. OK – initially the feds may have panicked and decided to cover up a crashed saucer until they figured out what it meant and what they should do with it. But 60 plus years later – what’s the motivation? The standard reply, which Mitchell repeats, is to avoid panic in the streets. This excuse becomes less and less credible over time. What if the government is hiding an ongoing relationship with the aliens? This just broadens the conspiracy, makes the cover up more massive and therefore more implausible.

I also find it implausible that an alien race would have the technology to build a ship that could travel to the Earth from another stellar system, only to crash.

Of course none of this proves there was no crashed saucer at Roswell – these are a plausibility arguments. It contains assumptions, but I think they are reasonable.  They are reasons to increase our level of skepticism, which in practice means that our demands for hard evidence are increased before we accept the claim as probably true. What we have are severe plausibility issues with an absence of any hard evidence, and a highly plausible alternative explanation that explains all available evidence well. The Roswell story also fits well into our understanding of how mythologies are generated, spread, and grow.

Until some concrete evidence comes to light, there is simply no new news here. Mitchell repeating the same-old tired claims of the UFO community is not news.

22 responses so far

22 Responses to “Edgar Mitchell on UFOs Again”

  1. DevilsAdvocateon 21 Apr 2009 at 9:07 am

    UFOs are just one of Mitchell’s paranormal belief franchises. He’s also long been an advocate for ‘psi’, and once tried to run an unofficial psi experiment from a NASA space vehicle. As a former NASA astronaut, he takes advantage of the ‘argument from authority’ fallacy so pervasive among UFO & psi believers.

  2. medmonkeyon 21 Apr 2009 at 9:19 am

    Have the requirements for becoming an astronaut changed in modern times? I know it’s an incredibly difficult job to get, generally requiring advanced degree(s) and a personal history of scientific research. Was Mitchell always a kook, or did he develop this personality post-NASA?

  3. DevilsAdvocateon 21 Apr 2009 at 9:33 am

    Pre-NASA, and during. Mitchell founded the Institute of Noetic Studies, where Dean Radin was his top researcher.

    From the Skeptic Dictionary’s entry on Radin:

    “Another example of Radin’s distorted history of psi research is his claim that astronaut and psi enthusiast Edgar Mitchell conducted a “successful ESP card experiment from the Apollo 14 space capsule” (p. 76). Mitchell is a founder of the Institute of Noetic Sciences, where Radin is employed as a senior scientist….”


    Scroll down 3/4 to ‘the Edgar Mitchell ESP fiasco’.

    Institute of Noetic Sciences (founded by Mitchell 1973):


    A better name for it would be the Teleological Temple.

    In that it offers advice on health, Quackwatch has it on its list of dubious organizations.

  4. daedalus2uon 21 Apr 2009 at 9:37 am

    If you follow the advancement of science and technology, there is no hint that there was an infusion of technology well beyond our current capabilities. Technology that is sufficient to allow for travel between stars is so far beyond our understanding that there is no hint of how it might be done, or if it is even possible in our current understanding.

    Human nature being what it is, it is inconceivable to me that “the government” would have captured advanced technology artifacts and not tried to understand them. Given the numbers of reported UFO sightings and crashes, it would seem that essentially every nation must have such sites. If the cold war adversaries of the US had such sites, then which ever nation understood the technology first would have won any conflict.

    The US knows how to develop advanced technology extremely rapidly. The Manhattan Project went from an idea to deployable atomic weapons in 4 years. Alien UFO technology would be orders of magnitude more important. Which ever nation developed it first would “win” any and every conflict that followed.

    There is no hint that there is such a technology development project going on. A few hundred billion a year would be chump-change if it produced technology of sufficient power to travel to the stars. If half the budget was for labor, and salaries averaged $100k, then there should be at least a million people employed on this project.

  5. DevilsAdvocateon 21 Apr 2009 at 10:48 am

    The consideration pretty much ends with the claim of a grand conspiracy, never mind what that conspiracy might be doing – back-engineering alien tech, hybridizing, etc.

    If one claims a grand conspiracy to cover up all alleged alien ship crashes, that conspiracy will need to have been 100% successful on all continents where crashes have been claimed, 100% successful in getting to and retrieving the evidence first, 100% successful among all the governments of those countries, 100% successful through multiple and repeated changes of leadership in all those countries – even those changed by revolution and violent overthrow where the conspiracy would have needed to plan for an overthrow, and this conspiracy will have needed to be 100% in stopping all leaks and all whistleblowers. And if that isn’t enough to raise a few doubts, factor in that this same masterful, omniscient, perfect conspiracy will have somehow failed to muffle all these UFO experts who see right through the conspiracy.

    If one claims that Roswell represents the only genuine UFO crash, that all others are bogus, it still requires a 100% successful grand conspiracy on the comparative local stage of the USA, that since 1947 they’ve managed to keep a total lid on it despite changes in administrations of diametrically opposed politicians every 4-8 years, despite constant changes in personnel at all levels of the military, despite a constitutionally guaranteed free press always looking for just such conspiracies and government secrecy, despite the American government’s record for keeping secrets: Watergate, U2 spy plane, Iran-Contra, Monica Lewinsky, etc., etc., despite the absence of unexplainable technological gains from alien back-engineering, despite the absence of leaks from the thousands of scientists and technicians such a conspiracy would have required, despite…… why go on?

    I think a bit of doubt is warranted.

  6. HHCon 21 Apr 2009 at 12:32 pm

    1947, the incident at Roswell ignited the imagination about UFOs. This was an exciting event in Roswell. It became a tall tale or myth that the Roswellians could share with their drinking buddies and impart to future offspring. To live in Roswell meant you had the government do a real investigation of this incident, and the townspeople were told to stop blabbering nonsense about it. Well, of course that will have an opposite effect on small town folk. Edgar Mitchell was excited about this strange phenomenon and became a Navy captain and then worked with Apollo. But on Apollo 14, he couldn’t phone home like ET, though he wished he could connect thorugh psi. He was required to keep his new space consciousness to himself until he landed. Its not uncommon to feel emptiness upon completing a space mission if it was the ultimate goal for which you trained long and hard. Its not unusual to feel lonely by prolonged space flight and isolated from loved ones. That where his Noetic mission began. Perhaps, regular trips to the psychiatrist would have been helpful after the flight. But I don’t think he was that interested in exploring his inner self-consciousness to obtain knowlege in this manner. Mitchell invested in a society to do “research” about a variety of human phenomenon. Some investments will never pan out.

  7. DevilsAdvocateon 21 Apr 2009 at 1:06 pm

    Mitchell’s penchant for the paranormal predates any NASA Apollo flights. In interviews, he has dated his interest to the early 60s during the rise in American culture of counterculturalism, anti-establishment sentiments, and the so-called Age of Aquarius (precursors to today’s ‘alternative’ everything, btw).

    Along with UFOs and psi, Mitchell also claims his kidney cancer was cured by teenaged remote healer from Canada pseudonymed Adam Dreamhealer (gag). Unfortunately, Mitchell’s kidney cancer was never diagnosed in the first place by biopsy. He essentially diagnosed himself based on MRI and sonogram tests said to be ‘consistent’ with kidney cancer. Sticking to his personal version, ahem, of hardline science, Mitchell also diagnosed himself as cured of cancer, again without proper tests.

    Take it all as evidence of what happens when someone establishes their own standards of scientific evidence, obviously set far lower than mainstream science standards. Lower your standards for proof and anything may become real.

    It’s also a caution against authorative argumentation in that Mitchell, besides his Apollo and NASA glory, also holds a doctorate in astronautics and aeronautics from MIT, no less.

    Education is a fine tool unless left lying in one’s tool box unused.

  8. DevilsAdvocateon 21 Apr 2009 at 1:44 pm

    Um, that should read “Unfortunately for his belief in remote healing..”. I wouldn’t wish cancer on anybody.

  9. medmonkeyon 21 Apr 2009 at 3:45 pm

    Haha, thanks for the background DA and HHC. I’m curious what MIT thinks of his wacky ideas. This is just another example of how intelligence is not a sure-fire marker for critical thinking. Is it too elitist of me to suggest that certain institutions require a critical thinking assessment in their acceptance criteria? I bet Dr. Novella will agree that medical schools could benefit incredibly from such a requirement (for both student and faculty).

  10. DevilsAdvocateon 21 Apr 2009 at 4:05 pm

    Too easy to pass. Paranormal beliefs are often compartmentalized and no paranormal believer abandons critical thinking all the time. Within the genre it is common for a firm believer in, say, ghosts, to scoff and laugh at those who believe in bigfoot, when the quality of evidence for either is equally low.

    When I worked for a county level mental health center I stepped up and helped fight off a surge of would-be employee ‘trainings’ in horsecrap like reiki, Myers-Briggs personality profiles, and the like. The adult outpatient MH director, a Duke educated psychiatrist, voiced appreciation for my work in getting rid of this stuff, asked questions that led to sharing my interest in skepticism, critical thinking, and science-based treatment modalities, all of which she agreed to. Then she asked what i knew about therapeutic touch (TT). Long story short, she rejected reiki, canding, bogus personality profiling, acupuncture, aromatherapy, chiropractic, homeopathy – the entire slate of usual suspects – but fully bought into therapeutic touch because an RNC (registered psychiatric nurse for outworlders) showed her how it works.

    I asked how this RN demonstrated the effectiveness of TT. She described how the RN brought in one of her regular TT ‘patients’ and demonstrated it right there in the director’s office. The nurse had been ‘treating’ this patient for over ten years. That’s all it took – some hand-waving and anecdotal play-by-play testimony from a long-term TT consumer – and the good doctor was convinced.

    It moggles the bind.

  11. HHCon 21 Apr 2009 at 4:09 pm

    Its interesting to learn about Edgar Mitchell’s early interests in psi. So his interests began in the 60’s. Well, my brother was training to be a doctor in the 60’s and he was in the Air Force. He was also a flight surgeon with the Apollo projects. My brother stated that he was promised to be one of the first physicians in space. He also did aerospace rescue work. Unfortunately, he died from third degree burns when his Piper Lance crashed in 1980. He was interested in telepathy too, but as it could apply to everyday family concerns. He didn’t take himself too seriously but when he did have a problem, he never failed to see a psychiatrist or talk with a pastoral counselor. His estate was blessed with a series of wise investments. Unlike Mitchell, he didn’t invest in pseudoscience.

  12. tomcrollon 21 Apr 2009 at 7:00 pm

    Why isn’t pec extolling the virtues of psi and letting us know it is a cover up?

    Personally , I think you’re all in on it.

  13. tmac57on 21 Apr 2009 at 8:32 pm

    DevilsAdvocate- “despite the American government’s record for keeping secrets: Watergate, U2 spy plane, Iran-Contra, Monica Lewinsky, etc., etc.,”
    This was all window dressing to convince the American public that the U.S. government couldn’t keep a secret. The aliens obviously did crash in Roswell, and the government did uncover all of their advanced inter-stellar travel secrets, but they abandoned their project “astra-trek” only after they realized that the aliens had never quite solved the ‘landing safely’ problem.

  14. artfulDon 21 Apr 2009 at 8:59 pm

    If a bunch of hicks get together and work out a way to whisper things to the gullible that will bring them T-shirt business customers and all that goes with it for the foreseeable future, could that possibly be the genesis of a conspiratorial tale very like the one under discussion? And thus be one mother of a conspiracy?

  15. HHCon 21 Apr 2009 at 9:07 pm

    The tale which Mitchell told about kidney cancer and his miraculous healing is quite fantastic! My brother, a fellow Apollo project participant was a published radiologist in the States. He worked with cancer patients. He would have had fun with Mitchell!

  16. DevilsAdvocateon 21 Apr 2009 at 11:02 pm

    tmac: “This was all window dressing to convince the American public that the U.S. government couldn’t keep a secret. The aliens obviously did crash in Roswell, and the government did uncover all of their advanced inter-stellar travel secrets, but they abandoned their project “astra-trek” only after they realized that the aliens had never quite solved the ‘landing safely’ problem.”

    You’ll not be surprised I’ve heard plenty crazier than that offered by UFO believers with all sincerity.

    One of my favorite ufological moments comes from about ten years ago. I was in Toronto visiting family and attended (undercover, so to speak) a UFO convention. After many preliminaries a MUFON director offered up a slide presentation on what he was certain was NASA footage of an alien mother ship in Earth orbit. He excitedly pointed out its various apparatuses – this must be an antenna, who knows what this might be, this must be landing gear – why is it extended in space? That sort of thing. Pure fantasy badly married to wild-assed speculation.

    A very young man sitting near the front, perhaps 18 years old, raised his hand to ask a question and the MUFON guy signalled him.

    “Um, sir?” he said.

    “”Yes, go on” said Mr. MUFON.

    “Sir, that’s the moon” the kid said.

    “Excuse me?” queried Mr. MUFON.

    “It’s the moon, sir. I’ve seen this footage from NASA before. It’s just the moon” said the kid.

    Angry murmurs came up across the auditorium as attendees smelled a skeptical rat in their midst, and the kid was shouted down and ignored.

    About a week later I saw an article somewhere on the online skeptical menu of the 1990s that identified the kid as, I can’t recall exactly, either an astronomy student or amateur hobbyist astronomer. And the kid was right. It was a still shot taken from a NASA video that showed the moon in an uncommon aspect, peaking out from behind the Earth. The article posted the still shot in question and while it wasn’t immediately obvious as being the moon, it bore no resemblance whatsoever to any popular concept of what an alien space ship might look like. Other than a couple light flares there was nothing a normal viewer might construe as space ship apparatus or appendages.

    It just goes to show you – sometimes believing is seeing.

  17. taustinon 22 Apr 2009 at 1:26 am

    “Wow – uncorroborated second-hand anecdotes.”

    From people who feed their children with money earned from tourists. Do not underestimate the power of tourist dollars. I’ve seen it first hands. I lived in a very small town about 50 miles north of St. Louis, about a mile and a half from The River (the Mississippi, that is). There is quite a lot of barge traffic on the river, and the barges have powerful spotlights to help with nighttime navigation. On nights with low clouds, these barge lights, shined up, can provide quite a show, including “moving a impossibly high speeds” and “making impossibly sharp turns,” as you would expect. Somebody, somehow, from the next town up highway 79, managed to get one of the St. Louis newspapers to do a story on the “strange lights in the sky.” I’m guessing both the reporter and his editor got a cut of the sales on t-shirts and beer to the tourists who came up from the city to see the UFOs.

    Mind you, not all of it was fraud. Some of the locals were convinced the UFOs were real, too. Especially the ones who started making money less directly from the tourists, but made good money just the same. Self delusion is a powerful force when feeding one’s children is involved.

  18. HHCon 22 Apr 2009 at 11:38 am

    If ET does phone home, we are going to find out where! On March 6, 2009, NASA launched the Kepler craft with a 95 megapixel camera. It will follow earth’s solar orbit. It will function as a census taker for planets. The project ‘s cost is $600,000 for 3 1/2 years. The craft is designed to last twice those number of years.

  19. HHCon 22 Apr 2009 at 12:32 pm

    Correction to my last post: Project cost is less than $600 million.

  20. beerdrinkeron 27 Apr 2009 at 5:51 pm

    I think Dr. Mitchell is definitely right on. There is no question that alien space craft are flying around this planet. They are very intelligent and obviously do not want to be seen. However, mathmatics and statistics will eventually catch up with these aliens. One of these days someone will get a really good video of some of this or a craft will crash (even alien superior intelligence cant escape the possibility of an accident) and it will be quite convincing.

    I use to be somewhat of a skeptic but I was always intreseted since I have a background in science. However, 1 day, I did see 3 ufo craft in the sky. I was watching some birds and I followed one until it flew up and as I watched it I noticed something strange high in the mid day sky. The sky was a beautiful sky with the sun and some cumulus clouds. I noticed a conical delta shaped craft similar to a mcdonnell douglass delta clipper. The external skin structure was metallic with no apparent coatings. Every once in a while the sun would reflect off flashes as the craft moved upward at an angle. The interesting part of it was that it was creating a contrail and the contrail is something that I have never seen before. It created rings at a constant frequencey. From my view it appeared to be every 100-500ft or so and the craft when I first saw it was maybe around 10,000 feet in altitude. The craft was moving upward at a steep angle. The velocity was not too great and within a minute or 2 it was out of sight. It did not change direction so it must have went into space. As far as its velocity or speed it appeared to be not traveling super fast. It was maybe as fast as a fighter jet. I did not hear any noise as I was indoors.

    After this, I noticed 2 identical craft which were staged lower in altitude. These 2 craft were side by side spaced off a little distance between each other and they were moving at a constant velocity at a similar steep angle moving upward, but a different direction from the first craft. The strange thing about these craft were that I could not see any sort of exhaust or contrail whatsoever. Like the first craft, these 2 craft moved at a similar speed to the first one and did not change direction. Within a minute or so they were no longer visibil and again I think they went into outer space, like the first craft.

    Now I know the government has alot of secret projects going on and some top secret. Something like this, if man made, would be top secret. The funny thing is that these craft were over a major city (on the outskirts) and during plain day. My knowledge about the goverment programs are that they would not take this type of risk, even if it was top secret, to be flying around a heavily populated area. You just have to ask the question, what would the goverment gain by doing this? In this city, there is absolutely no benefit for the goverment to do this. There are no military bases within 60-90 miles and plenty of rural areas to do exercises. So, with this in mind, and my knowledge of how difficult it is for the goverment to create new technologies and actually fly them, only leads me to believe that these craft were definitely from an alien life form who in my opinion are far superior in intelligence than we can even dream.

    For those who think that these craft were an “aurora” type of project, I do not think so. That craft has been described as a 2 engine craft that is a delta wing type of air plane. What I saw was more of a rocket capsule that was much smaller than a huge sr71 type of craft. And again, people who claim to have seen aurora note that this thing flies across the sky, not upward into outerspace.

    Ive talked to a couple different people who have or still work at nasa and I hear of knowledge of secret type of missions that sometimes nasa gets involved with but none of the people I talked with recognized my descriptions of what i saw or could even acknowledge if they know of any existing technologies by the u.s. goverment that comes close to doing what I saw.

    Just look at the shuttle replacement. I hear they call it the appollo program on food stamps. Well, if nasa, had the type of technology where they could blast off into outer space anywhere without a launching pad, then they wouldnt be designing antiquated technology rockets designed to be launched in the southern regions of the united states. The ufo’s I saw were in the north and they didnt require huge fuel tanks to get to outer space (nor did they require cheating to be located closer to the equator for a faster exit velocity).

  21. Geekoidon 07 May 2009 at 11:41 am

    I think the premise that is Aliens could get here they would crash is a poor argument.
    Maybe it was their first attempt? maybe there was a mistake? who knows. We ahve gioe into space often and we still ahve accidents.

    There is no evidence at all that aliens have landed, nor do I believe we have been visited. Only pointing out that arguing ‘they wouldn’t crash’ is weak. I wish people would stop using it.

    Beer drinker: People are notoriously bad at making those kinds of observations.

    “e I talked with recognized my descriptions of what i saw or could even acknowledge if they know of any existing technologies by the u.s. goverment that comes close to doing what I saw.”

    That’s because you didn’t see what you thought you did.
    Your post boils down to:
    I saw X one time when I wasn’t looking for it. A few random people I talked to had never heard of X, therefore it’s aliens.

  22. Steven Novellaon 07 May 2009 at 1:32 pm

    Geekoid – I disagree. This is not often as logical proof that aliens could not crash. It is simply a plausibility assessment. The technology required for interstellar travel is extreme by our standards. You cannot compare this to our feeble ventures into space.

    It is likely that any such advanced technology would also not easily crash on a planet’s surface.

    Not impossible, just an implausible scenario. Consider further that there are multiple crashed saucer stories, not just Roswell. This stretches plausibility further.

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