Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Ed Mitchell and UFOS: From Any Other Source...

Edgar Mitchell was a decorated pilot and astronaut back in the 1960s and, among other things, he holds the record for the longest moonwalk ever.* He holds a doctorate in aeronautics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and has several honorary doctorates from other institutions. Sounds pretty impressive, eh? Well, frankly, all of that is pretty impressive. Unfortunately, he's fast becoming the poster boy for UFO conspiracy theorists.

Ed Mitchell walking on the moon.

Mitchell made headlines about a week ago when he went to the British press with a story about UFOs being covered up by the U.S. government. It really wasn't anything that he hasn't said before, but a lot of the conspiracy sites out there have been treating this like some kind of sea change in world attitudes about UFO visitation. Basically all of the excitement hinges on a pair of statements that he made last week on a British radio program, which we'll examine in turn. Here's the first:
There’s not much question at all that there is life throughout the universe. I’m totally sure we are not alone.
Well, that's pretty fair, and in fact I think he's probably right. I'd stand by him on this statement - somewhere in the universe there is almost certainly other life in some form or another. There's honestly not a lot of controversy about this statement, so I'm unclear as to why it's causing so much excitement. I guess hearing it come from a former astronaut makes a difference to some people, but if some of the True Believers out there would read some books by actual astronomers (Which I have a sneaking suspicion they won't - I rarely read much scholarly work when I was a True Believer myself.) they'd realize that the idea of alien life somewhere in the universe isn't particularly controversial. This particular statement is something that most of us evil skeptics probably wouldn't have a problem with. That being said, I think the real excitement is about the second statement he made:
...We have been visited on this planet and the UFO phenomenon is real - though it’s been covered up by governments for the last 60 years or so.
Now here we get into conspiracy gobbledy-gook. Again, alien life is not only possible elsewhere in the universe but, I'd argue, fairly likely. On the other hand, claims of alien visitations to the earth are totally unsubstantiated. Note that Mitchell himself offers no elaboration or evidence here, he just knows. He later goes on to specifically mention that the Roswell incident really involved a crashed UFO and the corpses of aliens were recovered from the scene. Unfortunately, Mitchell himself has never actually seen the bodies, but he heard about them from a source he won't name except to say that he's dead now.

Are we honestly meant to believe a fantastical story about a government cover-up of the most important scientific discovery of all time based on a yarn someone heard from an anonymous source who's now claimed to be deceased? If I posted an entry claiming that some super-secret anonymous source told me that they were keeping a live dragon in a special enclosure underneath the Pentagon, but that I'd never seen the monster and the source was dead now and thus not available for questioning, would you believe me? Probably not, unless your name is Philip O'Donnell. Nope, if I made a claim like that, I would be deluged with e-mail calling me a loon! What makes an equally weak story more believable when it's coming from Mitchell? Keep in mind that he's not even saying that he himself has any specific experience with the alien corpses himself, he's just repeating what someone else told him. As long as the primary source remains anonymous and no actual evidence is forthcoming, Mitchell's UFO claims are no weightier than the old cliché about how "a friend of a friend" heard that there are alligators in the sewers.

Looking at these assertions, I have to note that Mitchell isn't really making any claims or giving any more actual evidence that countless conspiracy-minded forum posters all over the internet. The only reason he gets any press at all for these statements is that he's a former astronaut. The members of the media (as well as some conspiracy buffs) are also downplaying the fact that Mitchell is a proponent of ESP, distance healing, and, specifically, is a supporter of the Canadian huckster who goes by the emo-sounding pseudonym "Adam Dreamhealer". Mitchell claims that this miracle man cured him of cancer simply by thinking good thoughts about him, but is somewhat slower to mention that it was never confirmed by doctors that he even had cancer. (As a little background information, Adam Dreamhealer claims that his supernatural healing abilities came to him when a giant bird "downloaded all the information in the universe into [his] mind". ) I'm not so sure the media would be quite as interesting in Mitchell's UFO claims if they were aware of the breadth and scope of some of his other odd claims.

Mitchell supports "distance healer" Adam Dreamhealer.
Dreamhealer claims a big bird gave him the secrets of the universe.

Ed Mitchell's not some kind of lunatic or idiot, and there's no reason to try to denigrate all the real scientific work he did as an astronaut, but his current UFO (and other) claims just don't come close to reaching the levels of credibility that they would need to warrant the amount of attention they're getting. Keep in mind also that I'm not calling Mitchell a liar, either. For the most part, Mitchell is not claiming that he's had firsthand experience with aliens - he's just retelling stories that other people have told him. That makes him gullible rather than malevolent. The same his true for his claims about Adam Dreamhealer - Mitchell is no more a liar in this matter than is any other "satisfied" victim of a faith healer.

All of this leads me to suspect that while Mitchell is a smart man with an open mind, he may have kept his mind so open that his brains are starting to slosh out.

*Technically he is the co-holder of this record, alongside Alan Shepard.

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