Mar 26 2018

Atacama Mummy Not Alien

In 2016 Steven Greer released his documentary, Sirius, which tries to make the case for a deep conspiracy to hide the truth of aliens and free energy. Part of the documentary was to showcase possible evidence for aliens, including the Atacama desert mummy, a six-inch mummy of what appears to be a malformed fetus.

Greer and other UFO enthusiasts thought the mummy looked like an alien, with its cone-shaped head and strange anatomy. There are certainly a lot of anomalies to point to in the mummy, but just pointing to anomalies does not result in scientific conclusions. The documentary takes pains to point out that the mummy is not a crafted hoax, but the remains of a living creature. This is true, but misses the real criticism of the alien hypothesis. It is the remains of a living human.

Recently DNA analysis of the mummy found that it was indeed human. And now further analysis shows that it was a human female of mixed heritage with many newly found mutations in genes that code for bone proteins. The mummy itself is probably only decades old, as the DNA was well-preserved.

These results are not surprising, and we may learn something about genetic bone disease from studying the effects of the newly discovered mutations.

But more important, from a skeptical perspective, than the predictable results of this individual case is recognizing the pattern it represents. Purveyors of various kinds of pseudoscience, such as UFO enthusiasts, pretend to do science but never fully close the loop. They tend to build their case out of ambiguous evidence, low-grade or dubious evidence, and from preliminary evidence that has not yet been fully examined. What they never have is a thorough analysis that shows that their pet theory is the best current explanation for the alleged phenomena. There is always a gap between their claims and the evidence, which they fill in ad-hoc with conspiracy theories.

The Atacama mummy is a good representation of how they use preliminary evidence – something that has not yet been sufficiently scientifically examined. Scientific research often has several stages. The first stage may be the identification of an anomaly, such as the strange 6-inch mummy. The skeleton is the size of a fetus, but malformed and with bones that look more fully developed, more like a small child than a fetus.

Pseudoscientists love the anomaly stage because you can speculate wildly, and play upĀ  the mystery of the unknown (what we call “mystery mongering”). They can further sensationalize the case by hyping the fact that the anomaly is being studied. So, it is interesting enough for scientists to take it seriously. I wonder what they will find?

The true-believer narrative is this – look at this amazing anomaly, here are some superficial similarities to things we think are alien, scientists are studying it, isn’t that amazing?

The scientific/skeptical narrative is very different. Look at this interesting anomaly, here is a reasonable list of possible explanations, with priority given to the ones that introduce the fewest new assumptions (Occam’s razor). Here are the kinds of tests, observations, or experiments we can do to resolve the various hypotheses. We will wait on any final judgment until the data are in. Oh, look. It’s a diseased human (the hypothesis most favored by Occam’s razor). Now let’s do further study to keep learning about the apparent diseases.

What do the true-believers do when the data are in? They have several options, all of which work fine for their narrative. They can admit what the evidence shows, and then just move on to the next anomaly. There is always a list of things that have not yet been explained, or which are ambiguous and will remain forever without a definitive explanation. They got their 5-15 years out of this mystery, the next one awaits. This leaves them in a perpetual state of mystery mongering.

Or they can reinterpret the evidence to be consistent with their hypothesis. For example, another example of anomalous human remains, the “Starchild” was presented as a possible alien-human hybrid by Lloyd Pye. Occam’s razor favored a malformed child. DNA analysis showed the skull material was entirely human. The mitochondrial DNA (which has to come from the mother) was a human haplotype from an Amerindian female. There was also a human Y chromosome, which had to come from the father. So the child had a human mother and father. But Pye continued to point to what was unknown about the DNA and filled in the gaps with his alleged alien father.

Another option is to invoke a conspiracy. That is always a good go-to for true-believers, because it is the ultimate get-out-of-jail-free card. Any inconvenient evidence is part of a conspiracy. Done and done.

There have been many cases resolved with DNA analysis, now that it is relatively cheap and fast. So far all DNA has been identified as coming from Earth species. Alleged alien DNA is all human. Bigfoot DNA is bear, wolf, yak, or whatever.

I should also note that the presence of DNA itself is a pretty good sign of Earth origin. It is unlikely that life on any other planet would have evolved DNA with the same exact structure and code as DNA on earth. But of course, you can always solve logical problems like that, if you are a pseudoscientist, by just making up more shit (violating Occam’s razor a little more). No problem, we are related to the aliens in some way. They seeded life here, or we were all seeded from an even more ancient and powerful alien race, or whatever.

What pseudoscientists do is confuse their ability to invent a fanciful explanation with that explanation being plausible, and even probably true. Humans are clever and inventive, and have no problem making stuff up.

So another alleged alien phenomenon bites the dust. We will throw it on the pile with the Roswell incident, the alien autopsy, the Starchild skull, the crop circle hoax, and all the rest.

Reading the UFO literature from 30-40 years ago is an interesting experience. The claims and logic are all the same, but most of the cases were completely different. The cases just keep turning over, with new ones replacing the debunked ones. But after decades of enthusiastic search, no one has found a case that survives scientific analysis, or requires an alien hypothesis for explanation.


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