Sep 15 2011
Sorry to keep beating this dead horse, but sometimes it’s helpful to pursue an issue tenaciously until it is wrung dry. In this case, it is interesting to see the exact lengths to which Meier believers will go in order to defend his nonsensical claims. It’s like watching a multi-car pile up on the highway – more cars keep piling in and you can’t help wondering how bad it’s going to get.
One downside to such follow up, however (something which comes up frequently as a skeptical blogger) is giving attention to the attention-whores. I am frequently contacted by cranks and charlatans who are desperate for attention – they jump in front of me, frantically waving their arms (metaphorically, of course) trying to goad me into writing a response on my blog. I hate to give in to such tactics, but at the same time it can be entertaining and educational to dissect their nonsense. So I will occasionally give in.
One criterion I use before I decide to give the attention-seekers what they wish is whether or not they already have an audience for their claims, or do they have a position which (at least superficially) engenders serious attention. If so, then their claims are more deserving of a formal response. But generally, as long as I feel it can be turned into a teaching point, it’s fair game.
In any case – in response to my original post on Billy Meier last week, one professor Jim Deardorff responded to me directly in an e-mail (I feel it is reasonable for me to reproduce it here since he has already given permission to another Meier supporter, and relentless attention-whore, to make it public on his blog). So here is the letter and my public response:
Hello Dr. Novella,
In your blog you tried to dismiss the reasonable response of Jamesm that Billy Meier’s ETs have been providing Meier with evidence which, now and then, contains seemingly ambiguous elements so that negative skeptics can latch onto that and accept their own negative interpretation while ignoring other aspects that indicate reality — i.e., they supply some “plausible deniability” so that negative skeptics aren’t forced to believe that which they simply find to be unacceptable.
You called it post-hoc reasoning. But really, do you think anyone could arrive at Jamesm’s conclusion _before_ there was sufficient evidence for them to examine? (“Post” means after.)
The evidence you’ve ignored includes the first-hand eye-witness accounts of over 60 persons who were visiting Meier in Switzerland on and off over a period of 35 years when a particular event occurred, or were temporarily living at his converted-barn residence or who lived nearby. You should read their accounts and meet some of them before claiming they were deluded or mistaken or in on a hoax. E.g., see www.tjresearch.info/witness-list.htm . Or, read how and why the Meier-case debunking started, back around 1978, in www.tjresearch.info/Review_Clark.htm . Or review the ignored evidence regarding many of his beamship photos that indicate they could not have been any hoax — www.tjresearch.info/ufology.htm along with refutations of the attempted debunkings. Or see www.tjresearch.info/BillyYes.htm where, if a model had been used along with a model tree or miniature tree, the tree & model would have had to be some 40 or 50 ft away from the camera, with a pole (to hold a support string for a dangling model) of comparable length.
You really do owe Mr. Meier a huge apology for portraying him as being a giant hoaxer, while all those who have known him closely regard him as being honest and sincere.
Research Professor emeritus
Oregon State University
Professor Deardorff, despite his credentials, has made numerous logical and scientific errors in his analysis, the first is failing to understand the nature of post-hoc reasoning, which was the focus of my original post. Deardorff, for context, is a long-time supporter of Meier’s claims. Of course evidence has to be examined after it is available. But the significance of evidence should be established prior to that evidence appearing – based upon some logic or standard. Sometimes we have no choice – we are confronted by unexpected evidence and have to make sense of it. But then, all we can really do is form hypotheses to be tested by gathering further evidence.
The problem of post-hoc analysis is that the significance of evidence can be determined after the fact, and there is a tendency for this analysis to be overwhelmed by our biases. We decide that the evidence supports our desired conclusions – after we know the evidence is there. But would be have made the same judgment before we knew what the evidence was?
Deardorff also gives us the typical dismissal of skepticism, calling us “negative skeptics.” Science, however, embraces skepticism. Skepticism is the process by which we separate ideas we want to be true from ideas that actually are true. Deardorff does not seem to get this. Deardorff does not seem to understand the nature of special pleading and post-hoc analysis, and why they are not legitimate scientific methods. In an article defending Meier from a major critic, Kal Korff, Deardorff writes:
None of the above photographic findings is surprising if Meier’s ET contacts are treated as the reality they appear to be. Yet, apparently because he is unable to seriously consider this possibility, Korff has failed to look into, or report on, the above evidence validating the genuineness of this series of 34 beamship photos.
What he is saying, essentially, is that if you start with the assumption that Meier’s claims are true, you can make sense of all the apparent anomalies that Korff is pointing out. Deardorff is defending special pleading – trying to make the data fit the conclusion. He justifies this because of all the other evidence that Meier’s claims are genuine. This is a classic trap – many believers just know that their beliefs are true. They have been convinced by experience or evidence. And so when evidence does not fit their belief, there must be something wrong with that evidence, or some way to explain it away. Their error is in prematurely concluded that a phenomenon is real, and then dismissing any further contradictory evidence.
Deardorff claims, for example, that I am ignoring the evidence of eye witnesses. I am not ignoring this evidence – I simply find it unconvincing. Eye witnesses are extremely unreliable – this has been clearly established in the psychological literature, and by many historical events. Also, Deardorff is ignoring the fact that eyewitness accounts in the Meier case are contradictory. His ex-wife gives us testimony that Meier was engaged in a deliberate hoax – so I guess Deardorff has to dismiss her testimony. She previously validated Meier’s claims, so I am happy to just say that her account is unreliable.
Here is another case of incredible special pleading – above is another famous Meier photo with a typical flying saucer apparently attached to a small tree. When the area was later inspected (it was on a neighbor’s field) the tree in the image was not there. Meier helpfully explained that Semjase (the alien who’s ship is allegedly depicted) later removed the tree, for some reason. Meanwhile, the neighbor said the tree was never there.
That, Deardorff, is what I mean by post-hoc analysis. We see a picture of a UFO up against a tree. Meier claims its a real ship flying around the tree. Skeptics argue it is probably a small model attached to a model tree. When the site is investigated, there is no tree there. The simplest explanation is that the tree was, in fact, a small model. But Meier claims that, inexplicably, the alien removed the tree. I guess that was to further skepticism against Meier, otherwise rational people might believe his claims.
Deardorff is also impressed by his allegedly careful scientific analysis of the Meier evidence. What he actually offers is a great example of motivated reasoning – a deliberate inability to see the forest for the trees. What believers often do is examine minutia of the evidence, with post-hoc significance. They then substitute their minute analysis for the obvious big picture evidence, and claim they are being scientific.
Here is a good example – a detailed “scientific” analysis of the alleged Asket photo and the picture of the dancer from the Dean Martin show that skeptics claimed was the real subject was published on FIGU (I can no longer find the analysis on line, for obvious reasons). The article concluded, based upon detailed scientific analysis of their faces, that they could not be the same person. The fact that they looked like the same person was dismissed (the human brain is actually quite good at recognizing faces).
It was later revealed – by Meier – that the photos of Asket were photos of the American dancer. He was the victim of a setup by the Men in Black (or their equivalent). So much for careful scientific analysis – trumped by motivated reasoning and post-hoc analysis.
I don’t think I owe Meier an apology for my analysis of his claims and the reasoning of those who believe them. In my opinion, Meier owes the world an apology for perpetrating such a large hoax over so many years. He can redeem himself by finally coming clean – explain the truth to the world and provide a well-documented example of the human capacity for self-deception. The Meier case already is this, but it would be nice to have the full inside story.
Of course, then the hard core believers would just claim that the MIB finally got to Meier, or perhaps even replaced him with an imposter. There is truly no evidence that cannot be rationalized away.
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