How did life originate and are we alone? These are two of the most intriguing questions that have puzzled mankind since the dawn of civilization. Countless science fiction stories and movies speak to our infatuation with the possibility of intelligent alien life but so far such accounts remain firmly in the realm of science fiction. But for how long? Famed science popularizer and astrophysicist Carl Sagan expressed his wonderment at the vastness of space and time with his conclusion that “the total number of stars in the Universe is larger than all the grains of sand on all the beaches of the planet Earth.” Since those stars likely have planets orbiting them, it stands to reason that some of them would have conditions conducive to life. Even if intelligent life occurs on only a minute proportion of these planets, there could be numerous civilizations in our own Milky Way galaxy alone. So far we have discovered no evidence of their existence. It isn’t for lack of trying.
In advance of the 10th annual Lorne Trottier Public Science Symposium, “Are We Alone? Searching for life out there,” Joe Nickell, Senior Research Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, discusses the possibility (or lack thereof) that aliens have visited our planet; and that UFOs are extraterrestrials.
The Lorne Trottier Public Science Symposium will take place on Monday and Tuesday, Oct. 6 & 7 at the Centre-Mont Royal. The event will feature four expert speakers, Drs. Jim Bell, President of the Planetary Society & Professor at Arizona State University; Jill Tarter of the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute; Sara Seager, Professor of Planetary Sciences & Physics at MIT; and Joe Nickell, will fascinate members of the audience with research that is simply out of this world. Free admission, no reservations required. For additional information, visit the Symposium website, call 514-398-2852 or email.
Do you think that the Earth has been visited by aliens?
A great quantity of evidence could suggest alien visitation, but it is unfortunately of very poor quality. Invariably, there are better explanations for the claims. For example, the crashed-flying-saucer at Roswell, New Mexico, in 1947 (its debris consisting of foiled paper, sticks, tape, and rubber) has been matched to a U.S. spy-balloon array. (That was launched as part of Project Mogul, an attempt to monitor Soviet nuclear tests.)
Many people claim to have seen UFOs. What do you think they are actually seeing?
There is no doubt that people have seen UFOs – unidentified flying objects. The operative word is unidentified, because, like paranormal claims in general, those for UFOs are based on negative evidence: ‘We don’t know what the unusual light in the sky was, so it must have been an alien spaceship.’ Such a lapse in logic is called an argument from ignorance; one can’t draw a conclusion from ‘We don’t know.’ Investigation tends to convert most UFOs to IFOs – identified flying objects. These include meteors, aircraft, prank balloons, celestial bodies, and more, often seen under unusual viewing conditions.
You have carried out many investigations of the paranormal. Have you ever come across any phenomenon that you thought may actually have been outside the boundries of known science?
When I have had the opportunity to investigate, and evidence has been available for scrutiny, I have typically found explanations for “paranormal” mysteries. For instance, at the Atlanta “House of Blood” in 1987, blood inexplicably oozed from the walls and sprung up from the floor—according to a pair of eyewitnesses. However, in 1991, I obtained the crime-scene photos which I submitted to a forensic blood-pattern analyst. She detailed how the blood had actually been squirted onto the surfaces, disproving witnesses’ statements and indicating (with other evidence) a hoax. I could give hundreds of other examples from my decades of investigating. They have repeatedly shown that we live in a real, natural world.
You have attended spiritualist meetings in disguise to investigate the possible use of fraudulent methods. Why do you think this is an important endeavour?
Undercover work is sometimes the most effective means of getting close to and observing a suspected paranormal trickster. For instance at the notorious spiritualist site, Camp Chesterfield, Indiana, I used a false name and persona to investigate and show that a medium’s accurate pronouncements were divined – not by receiving otherworldly help, as claimed, but by a magician’s trick. I was assisted by my background as a “mentalist” (mind-reading magician). I disguised myself because I had recently appeared on Dateline NBC, helping them catch John Edward, the “psychic medium,” cheating.