Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Facts About Silas Newton's Claimed "Successful" Oil Discoveries - Guest Post by Dan Plazak

Silas Newton was the main informant (or misinformant) concerning the supposed saucer crash at Aztec, New Mexico in 1948, made famous by Frank Scully in his book Behind the Flying Saucers (1950).  Thoroughly debunked by J.P. Cahn in a 1952 article in True magazine, followed by a second article in 1956, interest in the supposed Aztec crash all but disappeared. However, in recent years interest has been building up again, largely because of Scott and Susanne Ramseys' The Aztec UFO Incident (2012, revised 2016, ). I have previously published a review of the 2012 edition of that book.

The FBI's website describes Newton as "a wealthy oil producer and con-man who claimed that he had a gadget that could detect minerals and oil."

The following is a guest post by Dan Plazak, a Denver geologist who has been studying the career of Silas Newton. Dan says his main interest in the story is not the saucers, but instead the “doodlebug” that Newton claims to have invented using crashed saucer technology [beating a similar claim by Col. Philip J. Corso by almost fifty years!]


Guest Post by Dan Plazak

Aztec crash aficionados describe Silas Newton as a multimillionaire geophysicist, who famously rediscovered the Rangely oil field in Colorado. But the Silas Newton in the skeptical literature is a completely different person: a professional con man without scientific credentials, who made up the Aztec crash story for one of his con games. Which Silas Newton is the real one?

The Aztec UFO Incident (2016 edition) presents a highly fictionalized Silas Newton:
Silas Newton
“Newton was famous for finding oil.” (page 75)
A search of newspaper reports and oil-industry literature can find no such fame, and, after all, a person cannot be secretly famous.
“Newton’s great success in finding oil,” (page 105); 
“wildly successful in finding oil.” (page 115)
Quite the contrary, Silas Newton drilled one dry hole after another, until he was broke and in debt. I’m still researching his drilling records, but the following is what I know so far, for the period starting in 1937. For his lack of success at Rangely field in Colorado, see below. In Kansas, Newton drilled one dry hole and at least one producer; his FBI file from 1941 mentions “three small producing wells” in Kansas, giving him about $200 per month. In California, Newton drilled 6 dry holes, and no producers. In Wyoming, he drilled 7 dry holes, and no producers. In Arizona, he drilled 6 dry holes and no producers. It’s no shame to drill a dry hole on a wildcat location, if you have good reason to think there might be oil there, but Newton was the opposite of “wildly successful”.
“Oil companies that had abandoned oil fields were quick to lease unproductive fields to him, only to reap embarrassment when Silas Newton returned the fields to profitability after finding deep reserves.” (page 247)
Frank Scully started this nonsense when he passed along Newton’s bragging that he had “rediscovered” the Rangely Oil Field in Colorado. Newton did no such thing, and Rangely appears to have been a financial debacle for him. Now The Aztec UFO Incident shows how myths grow in the retelling, by changing the single Rangely Field into the plural “fields.” Of course, the book does not name these additional oil fields where Newton supposedly worked his magic.

Silas Newton was convicted of fraud, but escaped going to jail.
Of Silas Newton in the late 1940s: “The oilman was so wealthy that he had no need to swindle anyone, and simple logic must intrude.” (page 115)

The authors support this with a newspaper article from 1930, about 20 years previous to the period in question. And it may have been true in 1930 (although Newton’s finances appear to have started to unravel in 1929, with the crash), but by the late 1940s, Newton was being dunned by creditors, and in 1952 could not afford his $5,000 bail. Page 100 of The Aztec UFO Incident even shows an article from a Denver daily newspaper, Oct. 19, 1952, discussing Newton’s inability to pay his bail.

Did Silas Newton “Rediscover” the Rangely Oil Field?

Silas Newton’s most touted alleged accomplishment is the rediscovery of the Rangely oil field in Colorado.

“He hunted for oil with instruments which had cost a fortune and were a closely guarded secret. With them he had rediscovered the Rangely oil field, years after the major oil companies had written it off as a failure.”
- Frank Scully, Behind the Flying Saucers (1950)

You see much the same thing repeated throughout the Aztec UFO-crash literature. Always paraphrasing Scully: Silas Newton, the geophysical genius, the famous oil-finder, “rediscovered” the Rangely oil field in Colorado by using a secret geophysical device. But is it true?

To anyone familiar with the history of oil in the Rocky Mountains, or who bothers to do even minimal literature search on the history of Rangely, the answer is obvious: Silas Newton did not discover, or “rediscover,” anything at Rangely field – not one thing. Let’s review the history of Rangely oil field.

The Real History of Rangely Oil Field

Oil at Rangely was first discovered in 1902, in the shallow Mancos shale. Despite the low production – most wells pumped only 5 to 7 barrels per day – and the remote location in Northwest Colorado, many shallow oil wells between 400 to 700 feet deep were drilled by small independent oil men in the years up to World War I. But Rangely oil was handicapped by having to be trucked many miles down dirt roads to a refinery. The road was often made impassible by snow or mud.[i]

In 1932, the California Company (the corporate ancestor of Chevron) drilled the Raven #1A well at Rangely to explore deeper that anyone had before. The location was chosen not by any geophysical device, but because it was on top of the Rangely anticline, an obvious and well-mapped geologic structure known to be favorable for finding oil. In June 1933, the California Company announced that it had discovered a massive oil deposit: a 600-foot thickness of oil-saturated Weber sandstone, and the industry bible Oil & Gas Journal headlined across the top of a page: “Rangely Dome Discovery of Major Importance; First Oil Producer in the Weber Formation.”[ii]

The deep Weber oil pool would later catapult Rangely into the most productive oil field in Colorado, but at the depression oil prices of 1933, the oil flow from the deep well at Rangely was not enough to pay for the cost of deep drilling and trucking from the remote location. No more deep wells were drilled at Rangely for the next ten years, but oil men remembered the California Company’s discovery. And far-thinking major oil companies bought up the oil rights over the Rangely anticline, betting that oil would not always be cheap.

World War II required prodigious amounts of oil for the war effort, and the well-known but previously uneconomic deep Rangely oil was suddenly a potential bonanza. The California company began producing its ten-year-old deep Weber well in September 1943, and the Oil & Gas Journal commented that the event marked “the beginning of a new era” for the oil field. With a major supply of oil assured, the road to Rangely was paved, the landscape became dotted with oil rigs, and companies began building pipelines to Rangely. The big winners were a handful of major oil companies which had bought almost all the oil rights over the Rangely oil field, in anticipation of this moment.[iii]

Silas Newton at Rangely Oil Field

So, where does Newton’s “rediscovery” fit in? What was Newton’s contribution to discovering or rediscovering the oil at Rangely? Absolutely none. No doodlebug was used to discover Rangely, and none was needed; it was drilled because such anticlines were obvious places to drill for oil. Newton never even saw Rangely until nine years after the deep Weber discovery. He was just one of the many latecomers who flocked to Rangely to see if they could find some oil that the others had overlooked.

By his own account, Newton visited Rangely for the first time in 1942, and tried to find some oil leases. Unfortunately for Newton, the best part of the field was already owned by three majors: the California Company, the Texas Company (Texaco), and Stanolind (Amoco). They all knew that they were sitting on a bonanza, and were not interested in selling. But Newton found John Bockhold, a small-time oil man from Kansas who had leased about 3,000 acres along the south edge of the Rangely anticline, but needed to sell his lease to pay some debts. Newton gambled that the deep Rangely field would cover a much larger area, and he bought the 3,000 acres of oil leases for $250,000, a high price at the time. But Newton talked his way into paying only a small sum up front, with the rest to be paid from future oil production. Now he had a sizeable oil lease; but did any of it have oil?

The Weber sandstone at Rangely is a classic structural oil field: it is shaped like an elongate inverted bowl. The oil floats on top of the water, so that if you drill the top of the bowl, you find oil; if you drill too far down the sides, you find only water. Only no one yet knew exactly how much of the bowl was filled with oil. Newton’s lease included part of the south flank of the structure, so with a bit of luck, he would find oil in the northernmost part of the lease. With a lot of luck, he would find oil under a significant part of the lease.

After drilling a shallow well to the Mancos shale in late 1943, Newton began drilling his first Weber well at Rangely in April 1944, about the same time that the California Company started drilling their second deep well.[iv] The California Company’s new well started producing oil from the Weber sandstone in September 1944. But Newton had drilling problems, and in September 1945, 17 months after he started drilling, Newton finally gave up without reaching the Weber sandstone.[v]

Newton’s first partial ownership in a successful deep well at Rangely was the Wasatch Oil Gentry #2-D, which started drilling in February 1945. When the well was tested in September 1945, Silas Newton proved himself a master of public relations. The Steamboat Pilot in nearby Steamboat Springs printed the headline “Newton Oil Co. Strikes Gusher at Rangely.” Beyond the fact that a couple of hundred barrels per day is far below the “gusher” class, the Pilot article neglected to even mention that it was the Wasatch Oil Company that actually struck oil, because the well was a joint venture between Newton and Wasatch: For ease of drilling, Newton drilled the shallow part of the hole with his cable-tool drilling rig, then Wasatch Oil moved on with rotary drilling equipment, drilled the deep part of the hole, and completed it as an oil producer.  But even though he owned only a partial interest in the well, Newton tried to take all the credit.

In August 1945, the Newton Oil Company started drilling its second operated deep well at Rangely. He stopped drilling at a depth of 1,838 feet. Although Newton completed the well as a gas producer, there was no gas pipeline out of Rangely, so that the only use for gas was a small amount used by drilling and production equipment. The well was essentially a dry hole.[vi]

In October 1945, the Newton Company started drilling its third deep well, and in June 1946 announced that it was a dry hole. Up to that time, oil companies had drilled 71 wells to the Weber, and every one of those wells had found oil. Newton’s was the first well at Rangely to penetrate the Weber and find only water. The Associated Press picked up the story, and newspapers across the country publicized Newton Oil as the company that drilled the first dry hole at Rangely, breaking the string of 71 successful oil wells in a row.[vii]

So by June 1946, after more than two years of drilling, Newton had drilled three dry holes, and owned partial interests in one oil well completed by another company. This was a very bad record for a development drilling project, which should have carried minimal risk. And it was now clear, although Newton did his best to deny it, that, at best, only the very northern edge of his large lease was prospective for oil.  

Newton then drilled four oil wells to the Weber. Each of these produced oil, but two of them produced only at low rates. Typical Rangely oil wells were making from 100 to 600 barrels per day, but the Associated #1A and #1B started off making only 45 and 23 barrels per day. In addition, all four Associated wells were at the very edge of the field, so they had thinner sections of oil pay. The field had a partial water drive, and these wells would be the first wells to go to water as the oil was withdrawn, and the oil-water contact moved upward.[viii]

For reasons difficult to explain, Newton also drilled a well that he knew, or should have known by then, was too far south to be in the oil pay: the Newton Oil Government #14F. Newton said that he had drilled the well based on geophysics, and loudly insisted that the Government #14F had found oil in a new oil pay, the Dakota sandstone, although many in the oil industry doubted him. After a lot of typical Silas Newton overblown publicity, the well was finally put on production – and produced no oil, only a small amount of natural gas. Essentially, this was another dry hole. In 1947, Newton sold the productive part of his Rangely lease to Stanolind for an undisclosed sum.

The creditors of the original leaseholder, John Buckhold, sued Silas Newton, saying that the $67,000 that Newton had received for selling part of the lease should have been paid to them as part of the $250,000 purchase price. Their lawsuit was a legal success, in the sense that the court ordered Newton to pay, but a financial failure, because Newton had apparently already spent the money.[ix]

Newton’s record of drilling deep Weber wells at Rangely was: four oil wells, all marginal, and all would water out quickly, plus a partial interest in one somewhat less marginal oil well. He also drilled four dry holes, although some of them were apparently completed in the shallow Mancos shale, and produced small amounts of oil. 

This is not a good record for a development project of this type. If Newton had acted prudently, at least two of the dry holes would have been avoided. Adding up Newton’s expenditures and income from the project, he probably lost something more than a million dollars at Rangely. That he lost money at Rangely is supported by fact that he never fully paid the $250,000 for the lease, and the Buckhold creditors were still suing him for payment in 1952. Perhaps not coincidentally, signs of Newton’s financial distress started in the late 1940s, followed shortly by accusations of fraud.

Conclusions on the Rangely field

1) Silas Newton did not in any way discover or rediscover Rangely Field, or any of the major oil-bearing zones at Rangely. The history of Rangely oil field is too well-documented to admit of any doubt on this point.

2) Nor was the Rangely field discovered through the use of any geophysical device; it was found through basic geology and the willingness of Chevron to take a chance on drilling a deep hole.

3) Newton not only didn’t rediscover Rangely, but also probably lost a lot of money there. He drilled too many dry holes, and completed a few marginal producers. Five years after he sold out, he was still being sued for money he owed for buying the oil lease.

Silas Newton’s falsehood that he had rediscovered the Rangely oil field is easily disproven. It was believed only because his audience – originally Frank Scully, was gullible, and also unlikely to do any minimal literature search, which would have exposed Newton’s nonsense. Today, Newton’s bragging imposes on the gullibility of a much larger audience.

Did Newton find oil with a Magnetic Detection Device?

One of the theses in The Aztec UFO Incident is that Silas Newton found oil by using a top-secret magnetic detection device developed during World War II to find enemy submarines. The Ramseys ask:
“How did Scully know this [magnetic submarine detection] in 1949 when he was writing the book, which was published in 1950, a time when all of these secret programs were still in place?” (page 250)
Short answer: by reading Life magazine (Nov. 14, 1949: “Scientific weapons and a future war”) First, by Scully’s own account, he began writing the book in 1950, not 1949. Second, a cursory literature search shows that the magnetic detection of submarines during the war was public knowledge well before Scully started writing his book. The MAD program was publicized in such not-quite-top-secret documents as daily newspapers, Life magazine, Flying (Jan. 1947: “The MAD cats”), Science News Letter (Aug. 14, 1948: “Doodlebug hunts oil”), and Popular Science (Mar. 1950: “How good is our anti-submarine defense”). The Aztec UFO Incident creates a false dilemma by fudging Scully’s writing back one year, and by pretending that the existence of the magnetic submarine detection program was kept secret at least four years longer than it really was.

Scully’s knowledge of the program was sketchy at best, as shown by his wildly exaggerated statement (page 37 of Behind the Flying Saucers) that, using the magnetic detection, “we were able to knock out as many as 17 Jap subs in one day.” In fact, during the entire war, no more than two Japanese submarines ever sank, from all causes combined, in a single day.[x] The real question is not how Scully knew of the program, which was well known at the time, but which grossly unreliable source told him that magnetic detection had resulted in 17 submarines sunk in a single day?

The Ramseys' book also makes a complete hash of the history of magnetic research during World War II. Although peripheral to the Aztec crash, these glaring errors reflect poorly on the supposed 28 years of research that went into the book. The book states:

1) The anti-submarine magnetic anomaly detection device, or MADD, was invented by the principals of GSI.
Fact: the MADD was invented by scientists at Gulf Research, most notably Victor Vacquier,[xi],[xii] and it is a shame for Ramsey et al to deprive him of the credit he is due. GSI (now Texas Instruments) was contracted during the war only to manufacture the device.[xiii] According to Texas Instruments’ own website, their defense contracts did not include any of their own inventions until the mid-1950s. (see: under Defense: Overview)

2) The MADD is known today as the Magnetron.
Fact: the MADD and the magnetron are entirely separate things. The MADD did not use a magnetron tube; it instead used the fluxgate magnetometer. GSI did not invent the magnetron, either. The original magnetron was invented by General Electric engineer Albert Hull in 1920,[xiv] and the cavity magnetron, which was used in World War II as a source of radar waves, was invented by British scientists J. T. Randall and H. A. Boot.[xv]

3) The MADD was kept secret into the 1950s, delaying its use in oil exploration.
Fact: Gulf Research was in the business of selling geophysical services, and soon after the war they were promoting their airborne fluxgate magnetometer, in essence the MADD, to oil and mineral exploration. The wartime program and its application to oil exploration was described in technical detail in Geophysics (issues of July 1946 and April 1948), including a schematic of the fluxgate magnetometer.

Geophysics, by the way, was mailed to each member of the Society of Exploration Geophysicists, in 1950 the membership was 2,566 scientists working in the field of finding oil and gas with geophysics. If you want to be a top scientist, you join such professional organizations to keep up with cutting-edge developments. Of course, Leo GeBauer and Silas Newton do not appear in the published membership lists of the Society of Exploration Geophysicists (I searched the lists from 1937 through 1950). Neither were GeBauer or Newton listed as members of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists; nor of the American Geophysical Union. Some top scientists.

Conclusions on Newton and magnetic oil detectors

If Silas Newton was using a MADD-derived magnetic device to find oil, he was just one of many, because the technology was available to anyone. But whatever he was using, it obviously didn’t do him much good, based on his overwhelming lack of success in finding oil.

The Aztec UFO Incident asserts that there is a genuine mystery behind the Aztec UFO crash. But the real mystery posed by the book is this: how can three authors, one of whom repeatedly brags about his 28 years of research on the topic, produce a book with so many careless errors of fact and logic?

Dan Plazak is a geologist in Denver, and author of a history of swindling in the mining industry: A Hole in the Ground with a Liar at the Top (University of Utah Press, 2007), see He is currently working on a book about doodlebugs and other unscientific ways to search for oil and minerals.


                [i] W. Y. Pickering and C. L. Dorn, “Rangely oil field, Rio Blanco County, Colorado,” in J V. Howell (ed.) Structure of Typical American Oil Fields, v.3, (Tulsa: American Association of Petroleum Geologists, 1948) 132-152.

                [ii] Tolbert R. Ingram, “Rangely dome discovery of major importance; first oil producer in the Weber formation,” Oil & Gas Journal, 22 June 1933, p.119. Graham S. Campbell, “Weber pool of Rangely field, Colorado,” in Guidebook to the Geology of Northwest Colorado (Salt Lake: Intermountain Association of Petroleum Geologists, 1955) 99-100.

                [iii] “Old Rangely well opened after 10-year shutdown,” Oil & Gas Journal, 7 Oct. 1943, p103. C. R. Thomas, “Rangely, one-time shallow field, now Rocky Mountains’ most active area,” Oil & Gas Journal, 24 Nov. 1945, p.90-96.

                [iv] “Rangely field promises to become an active area,” Oil & Gas Journal, 30 Mar. 1944, p.132.

                [v] Oil Reporter (Denver) 25 Aug. 1945, p4.

                [vi] Oil Reporter (Denver), 25 Oct. 1945.

                [vii] Rangely oil field of Colorado has first failure,” Pampa (TX) Daily News, 14 June, p.6 c.4. “Rangely gets first dry hole in Weber,” Oil & Gas Journal, 29 June 1946, p.149.

                [viii] Oil Reporter (Denver), 25 Mar. 1947, p.6, 29 July 1947, p.10, 26 Aug. 1947, p.10.

                [ix] Charles Roos, “Newton oil firm due to answer contempt action,” Denver Post, 16 Oct. 1952.
 Capt. S. W. Roskill’s multivolume The War at Sea lists every Japanese submarine that sank during World  War II, including dates, locations, and identification numbers. (London: HM Stationary Office, 1960, 1961) v.3 part 1 p.373-374, part 2 p.470-471.
[xi] M. N. Nabighian and others, “The historical development of the magnetic method in exploration,” Geophysics, Nov.-Dec. 2005, v.70 n.6 p.37ND.
[xii] M S. Reford and J. S. Sumner, “Aeromagnetics,” Geophysics, Aug. 1964, v. 29 n.4 p.483.
[xiii] Caleb Pirtle III, Engineering the World: Stories from the First 75 Years of Texas Instruments (Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 2005) 28-30.
[xiv] Albert W. Hull, “The magnetron,” Journal of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers, Sept. 1921, v.40 n.9 p.715-723.
[xv] S. S. Swords, Technical History of the Beginnings of RADAR (Institution of Electrical Engineers, 1986) 258.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Invasion of the Pod People - My review of David Jacobs' new book "Walking Among Us"

My review of UFO abductionist David Jacobs' new book Walking Among Us was first published in The Skeptical Inquirer, January/February, 2016.
Invasion of the Pod People

Book Review: Walking Among Us

The Alien Plan to Control Humanity

By David M. Jacobs. (San Francisco: Disinformation Books, an imprint of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC, 2015. 280 pp, $21.95).

The plot of the 1956 cult science fiction film Invasion of the Body Snatchers is summarized on the Internet Movie Database: “A small-town doctor learns that the population of his community is being replaced by emotionless alien duplicates.” This, in a nutshell, is what Jacobs alleges to be happening in Walking Among Us, except that the aliens do not steal our whole bodies, just our DNA (which they use to grow their own version of our bodies). And they produce emotionless alien hybrids, who now walk among us. We read on the back page of the book:
A silent and insidious invasion has begun. Alien hybrids have moved into your neighborhood and into your workplace. They have been trained by human abductees to “pass,” to blend in to society, to appear as normal as your next door neighbor.
David Jacobs
Dr. David M. Jacobs, PhD, is a retired professor of history at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He has been studying the UFO phenomenon since the 1960s, and has been hypnotizing supposed UFO abductees since 1986, a skill he learned from his fellow abductionist, the late Budd Hopkins. In the early 1990s, abduction mania was riding high, led by its Troika of Dr. John Mack, a respected Harvard psychiatrist; Budd Hopkins, artist and amateur hypnotist; and Jacobs. It resonated well with other concurrent manias, such as “recovered memories” of alleged satanic cult molestations, large-scale daycare molestations, etc.  In 1992, CBS-TV ran a prime-time miniseries based on the claims in Hopkins’s book Intruders, fueling widespread fears of sinister alien abductions. The Troika was so confident about the “scientific” status of their findings that in 1992 they arranged an Abduction Study Conference at MIT, hosted by physicist David Pritchard, in which I participated representing CSICOP. However, they went to extraordinary lengths using "non-disclosure forms" to control how the conference was reported. While the participants were heavily slanted toward the pro-abduction view, there was a significant presence of skeptical professionals, and instead of solidifying the abductionists’ claims, the conference highlighted their glaring weaknesses.

Jacobs’ first abduction book was Secret Life (1992), which attempts to categorize what goes on during a typical UFO abduction: physical events, reproductive events, and neurological events – “manipulating emotions, thoughts and images… I found that aliens could cause women to have orgasms during staring procedures.”  His second abduction book The Threat (1998) focused on supposed alien “hybrids and their roles in the abduction phenomenon,” especially “human-looking hybrids who involve themselves with abductees for years.”


In his new book, Jacobs explains in detail about the different kinds of aliens:
·   “Insectalin” leaders, who are over 6 feet tall and look like a praying mantis.
· “Grays,” large and small, who “only communicate telepathically.”
·   “Reptilian hybrids,” with “snake-like” heads and mottled skin
·  “Humanoid hybrids” (early, middle, and late stage), leading ultimately to
·    “Hubrids,” who are “human in every way except in specific neural functions,” capable of both “telepathic and verbal communication.”
It is these “hubrids” that are supposedly infiltrating human society today.

Much of Walking Among Us consists of tedious recounting of supposed abduction experiences elicited during hypnosis sessions. The aliens are presented as robotic, humorless, and bewildered by everyday devices such as telephones, as well as by human social conventions.

Ever the fatalist, Jacobs laments that

if enough intelligent, knowledgeable people put their minds to the problem, there may be a remote possibility that they can stop the aliens, or at least slow them down. But something of that nature will not be realized as long as academics, scientists, and especially neuroscientists… not only disregard the abduction phenomenon, but think it to be a direct indication of mendacity or mental instability.
 Yet what repeatedly struck me in reading this was Jacobs’ utter lack of curiosity about tracking down, and exposing, the alien presence and activities that he says is going on all around us. For example, one abductee was reportedly met outside her house and “driven by two late-twenties advance hybrids in their car,” to their apartment. It was “a different apartment from the one she had entered before.” So, alien hubrids drive cars. Do they have drivers licenses? They must, for they could not risk the scrutiny from law enforcement were they to drive without one. (Although I suppose Jacobs could claim that the hubrids would use their alien mind powers to make the traffic officer not pull them over.) How do aliens obtain documents to get their drivers licenses? How do they pay for them? Who pays for the cars driven by aliens? Who pays for their apartments? How do they pay when they go into a bar? How do saucer aliens obtain money – do they rob banks, or mine gold in asteroids? After a hubrid stops by for a visit, why not try to swab some DNA from the drinking glass he used? Given a few leads, any decent private investigator ought to be able to track down these infiltrators quickly enough – and expose the alien agenda! Yet Jacobs has absolutely no interest in such investigations. It’s almost as if he knows this is all a paranoid fantasy, and doesn’t want to risk confronting that fact by examining his own claims too closely.

Mack was struck by a vehicle and killed in 2004. Hopkins died in 2011, after having been publicly humiliated by the shocking expose of his dishonest methods by his ex-wife and former collaborator, Carol Rainey.  This leaves Jacobs as the last survivor of the once-mighty UFO Abduction Troika, but his star is now quite tarnished, too. His dealings with a supposed abductee known as “Emma Woods” have been harshly criticized by other UFO researchers. I can’t get into all of the details here, but it involves things like Emma’s undergarments, and Jacob’s purchase recommendations at a kinky sex shop. Her website is hereOn Jacobs’ website , he has a response to what he calls the "defamation campaign" against him. Referring to "Emma" as "Alice," Jacobs says that she appears to suffer from "Borderline Personality Disorder," and that she has been experiencing an "emotional breakdown."

In the final chapter, Jacobs acknowledges, “Most abduction evidence is the result of human memory, retrieved through hypnosis, with all its problems, administered by amateurs like myself.” Having made this admission, the next sentence ought to say something like, “So don’t take anything in this book too seriously.” Instead, like other abductionists who have paid lip service to the fallibility of hypnosis and memory, Jacobs conveniently ignores it throughout the entire book, and uses the dubious results of amateur hypnosis sessions to reach astonishing conclusions.


David Jacobs was a speaker at the 2016 International UFO Congress in Arizona in February. One of the comments I made on his speech was:
Jacobs says that when he begins hypnosis sessions with a new "abductee," the subject says all kinds of things that just are not true, especially in the first few sessions.  Subjects often "confabulate." But after a few more hypnosis sessions, Jacobs' subjects apparently learn which details are 'correct' and which are not, and tell stories that are much more 'correct.' This conformity among accounts is then cited to "prove" that the abduction stories are real.
Outside UFOlogy, this is generally known as "leading the witness."

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Guest Post: NEITH CONTEMPT by Martin S. Kottmeyer - Vallee's Zombie Moon of Venus?


This has begun to draw attention, and scrutiny, toward the book, and much of what is turning up is not pretty. Blogger Jason Colavito has written some extended critiques showing carelessness and errors in that book.

"(Vallee and Aubeck) launched an IndieGoGo campaign looking for $42,000 to publish 500 copies of a revised deluxe edition of Wonders in the Sky (2009), their demonstrably false and generally quite unreliable anthology of badly translated and frequently fictitious documents recording premodern UFO sightings....[Vallee] wasn’t able to sell more than 150 of the 500 future copies of Wonders in the Sky he put up for sale late last year." [Since that was written, Vallee and Aubeck have sold two more; there are now only 348 copies remaining for subscription.]

Colavito asks rhetorically: "Mr. Vallée, why did you repeat the same faulty translations, fabrications, and errors from Passport to Magonia in 1969 to Wonders in the Sky in 2009 until I finally caught you, all while holding yourself out as a scrupulous and rigorous investigator?

Kottmeyer remarks, "Did anybody not think it a bad omen to put on the cover an illustration of ufos seen during Alexander the Great's battles that reappears on p. 380 with a discussion showing the tale it tells to be a modern fraud?" 

And if "Neith," the "unidentified planetoid" allegedly orbiting Venus, is such a nothing-burger, why does it appear in the book nine separate times, like a Zombie rising from the dead?

Vallee said at the UFO Congress that this revised, deluxe book would be something he could present "to science" to show them that the study of UFOs must be taken seriously. How he could present it "to science" if only 500 copies will ever exist, all of them in private hands, he did not explain. So I doubt very much that the purpose of this "collector's limited edition," with its "facsimile commemorative coin" and "artistic beauty and scientific merit," is to widely disseminate information. In fact, in light of the recent near-avalanche of revelations of errors and bad scholarship contained within, if the book were presented "to science," it is likely that serious scholarship would laugh it away. Perhaps before long the book will be irreverently known as

 Blunders in the Sky.


NEITH CONTEMPT by Martin S. Kottmeyer

January 4, 1768, Copenhagen, Denmark
Unidentified planetoid orbiting Venus

Chris Aubeck and Jacques Vallee write, “Astronomer Christian Horrebow reported an observation of “a small light, that was not a star” which appeared to be in orbit around Venus. The object, named Neith by M. Hozeau (see final note) of Brussels Observatory, was never identified with certainty and was certainly not a natural satellite.”

Jacques Vallee and Chris Aubeck, Wonders in the Sky: Unexplained Aerial Objects from Antiquity to Modern Times and their Impact on Human Culture, History, and Beliefs, Jeremy P. Tarcher / Penguin, 2010, p. 267; entry #355.
Kottmeyer's image of Venus at the time Horrebow was observing it

COMMENT: The above image was generated using Redshift 5 Planetarium software. It was set for Copenhagen, Denmark and January 4, 1768. I have magnified the image of Venus (magnitude – 4.35 at the time) and its vicinity to 1000 power magnification. I let the time function run and stopped at the closest approach of the star Theta Librae. That happens around 5:06 Universal Time. It is a star that shines at magnitude +4.13. On most evenings it is visible with the naked eye. Using a measuring tool that was part of the program, I determined the separation came within a mere 1 minute of arc that evening I trust it can appreciated in this image that Theta Librae looks quite like a moon should look, roughly how a moon of Jupiter or Saturn looks through a telescope. I trust that Horrebow was probably not using this amount of magnification, but any astronomy buff should be able to work out that Theta Librae would have been visible at any magnification simply because it is visible to the naked eye even with no telescope at all. On this particular evening, though, you might have needed a telescope to separate the two – a minute of separation is impressively close.

Aubeck & Vallee’s book includes 9 entries about Neith. The name was evidently taken from a goddess in Egyptian mythology. She was reportedly a fierce huntress and warrior, not too surprising given she was branded the “cow of heaven’. I will assert that using planetarium software I could generate plausible solutions for all the observations of the mystery satellite of Venus involving stars that pass rather close to Venus in those 9 entries. This would be re-inventing the wheel. Neith had been debunked in Nature magazine back in 1887. The Nature author looked into 33 observations / claims that Venus had a satellite. All but one had a good solution along the lines of either the positions of known stars or suspicions of optical ghosts and artifacts of the telescope lenses in use. The final one was guessed to be a minor asteroid passing near Earth. The Nature author did give precisely the solution I have presented here for Horrebow’s observation except he didn’t have planetarium software that could precisely generate this particular image. I personally don’t consider this information obscure. I first read of this solution in William Corliss’s Strange Universe series of books where he re-printed several articles about Neith he gathered in his trawling of scientific literature for anomalies. His books were quite well known among the Forteans when they came out and are still highly recommended. I had heard of it in other books by astronomers over the years as well.
Kottmeyer's second image showing Venus with respect to the horizon, at the time "Neith" was spotted.

Among astronomers Neith had become a non-issue by the end of the 19th century. The sole reason 20th century nonspecialist readers ever became with this zombie moon was because Charles Fort gave a brief account of it his Book of the Damned. In a section of chapter 14 titled “Visitors to Venus,” Fort noted that Houzeau had collected 7 observations of large bodies seen near Venus and talked of them in a place called Science Gossip, plenty damning right there all should admit. Fort wrote Houzeau “accepted these observations and named the—world, planet, super-construction—"Neith." His views are mentioned "in passing, but without endorsement elsewhere. He remarks, “Houzeau or someone writing for the magazine-section of a Sunday newspaper—outer darkness for both alike. A new satellite in this solar system might be a little disturbing—though the formulas of Laplace, which were considered final in his day, have survived the admittance of five or six hundred bodies not included in those formulas—a satellite to Venus might be a little disturbing, but would be explained—but a large body approaching a planet—staying awhile—going away—coming back some other time—anchoring, as it were.”

Now a ufo buff must inevitably ask, what is Neith doing in an ufo book bearing a subtitle “Unexplained Aerial Objects from Antiquity to Modern Times.” How is a zombie moon around Venus categorized as an aerial object? It is a particularly ditzy move to include such astronomical material if you are going to start comparing the ancient material to modern ufo experiences. Do any modern ufos periodically anchor near Venus? There is obviously a category error here and including 9 such irrelevant claims is not merely weird, but could be viewed as potentially mucking up any statistical comparisons they make towards the end of the book. Bad as that is, Neith is not the only ‘super-construction’ improperly used in Aubeck & Vallee’s ancient ufo database. We’ll talk about that in a separate post.


Jacques Vallee and Chris Aubeck, Wonders in the Sky: Unexplained Aerial Objects from Antiquity to Modern Times and their Impact on Human Culture, History, and Beliefs. Jeremy P. Tarcher / Penguin, 2010, p. 267 The Venus mystery satellite claims appear in entries #244, #300, #342, #344, #345, #350, #351, #355 (Christian Harrebow), #404

William Corliss, Strange Universe series, section AOV-013 gives the best discussion

See also Joseph Ashbrook, “An alleged satellite of Venus” The Astronomical Scrapbook: Skywatchers, Pioneers, and Seekers in Astronomy 1984 and Sheehan's Planets and Perception 1988.

Mr. X’s annotated Book of the Damned gives all the following references as Fort’s sources of what he knew about Neith: Martha Evans Martin. The Ways of the Planets. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1912, 140. The last report was made in 1791 by Montaigne, (not 1767). The other reports of this satellite were: in 1672 and 1686, by Cassini; in 1740, by Short, using two telescopes; in 1759, by Mayer; in 1761, during the transit of Venus, by Scheuten; in 1764, by Rödkier, Horrebow, and three others, at Copenhagen, and by Montbarron, at Auxerre. T.W. Webb. Celestial Objects for Common Telescopes. 4th ed. London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1881, 61-2. A similar sighting, (possibly on May 22, 1823), was explained as being a star near Venus by a youthful Webb. T.W. Webb. "The satellite of Venus." Nature, 14 (June 29, 1876): 193-5, at 195.  
[I knew Mr. X, he used to attend Fortean conferences in the 1970s and 80s. He was a true Fortean nerd. - RS]

"The planet Neith." Hardwicke's Science Gossip, 22 (1886): 178.

C.A. Young. "The year's progress in astronomy." Transactions of the New York Academy of Sciences, 5 (May 17, 1886): 234-63, at 249. For more details of Houzeau's claims: "The problematical satellite of Venus.", Observatory, 7 (1884): 222-6.

A discussion about Neith on the web also giving mundane explanations:

A second Redshift image gives the positions of Venus and the constellation Libra relative to the horizon and the Sun below it at 5:06 Universal Time.

As a final note, Aubeck & Vallee spell Houzeau without the first ‘u.’ Fort spells it with a ‘u.’ This notice in The Observatory agrees with Fort.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

A Skeptical Look at the 25th Annual International UFO Congress (Part 6 - last)

Merrill Cook

Merrill Cook is a former two-term Congressman from Utah who participated in the mock Congressional hearings, Citizens Hearing for Disclosure in 2013. The title of his talk was "UFO Disclosure," in which he would be discussing "how he would handle UFO disclosure as a former congressman as well as his experience at the Citizen Hearing on Disclosure. He will tell us about what he heard there, and the testimony from witnesses and researchers which showed him how deep this conspiracy can go."
Cook rambled on about sightings, and lamented  government skepticism. He called, of course, for real Congressional hearings on 'disclosure.' He cited the French COMETA report as an example of strong evidence for UFOs. However, John Alexander (who is certainly no UFO skeptic) has described the COMETA report as “an embarrassment… unsubstantiated data from questionable sources” in his book UFOs Myths, Conspiracies, and Realities

Jacques Vallee
Lee Speigel, who writes Weird News for the Huffington Post, introduced and hosted the speaker that many had been waiting for, Jacques Vallee, one of the best-known UFO authors for more than 50 years, and one who seldom attends UFO conferences or other public events.

Vallee's talk largely related to the content of the book he co-authored with Chris Aubeck in 2009, Wonders in the Sky, which describes reports of unidentified objects in the sky before the modern era. He related tales of such sightings from very credible astronomers and scientists in the 17th to 19th century, including Cassini, Leverrier, etc.

Vallee was soliciting subscriptions for the re-publication of an updated (might we say, "corrected"?) version of that book. Blogger and archaeologist Jason Colavito had this to say about it last October:
 (Vallee and Aubeck) launched an IndieGoGo campaign looking for $42,000 to publish 500 copies of a revised deluxe edition of Wonders in the Sky (2009), their demonstrably false and generally quite unreliable anthology of badly translated and frequently fictitious documents recording premodern UFO sightings....Let me say that again: $42,000 for 500 copies. That’s $84 per copy, for a book they are selling for $200 per copy.... What I’d like to point out, though, is a basic fact: Jacques Vallée is a very wealthy man. He is a venture capitalist, and according to, he is a general partner in SBV Ventures, a firm that operates more than 70 companies and has vast real estate holdings. He is also the managing partner of Runway Capital Partners LLC, a general partner of Astrolabe Ventures, and a partner at Red Planet Capital, a firm he founded in 2006. He sits on at least three corporate boards of directors. And here he is asking his fans to give him cash to print a book, money that someone in his position ought to simply have sitting in the petty cash drawer.
At the UFO Congress, Vallee said that there were still 350 copies of this book remaining to be signed up for. The week after the UFO Congress, Colavito was incensed that a "Publicist for Jacques Vallee Asks Me to Help Spread the Word that Vallee Wants You to Give Him Money", especially since

Aubeck told me via email that many of the revisions in the new edition are based in part on criticisms and corrections I offered on my blog. At the time I was fairly upset that the clearly wealthy Vallée was asking his fans to pay him to produce the revised book, and I was even more annoyed that Vallée was planning on what seems to be tens of thousands of dollars in profit based in part on work he and Aubeck are borrowing from my efforts to correct their countless mistakes, including mistranslations and fabricated texts borrowed from unscrupulous ufologists. Just to remind you, Aubeck said of my criticisms and corrections that “I have found [them] extremely useful while making a totally revised 2nd edition (thank you!).”....
[Vallee] wasn’t able to sell more than 150 of the 500 future copies of Wonders in the Sky he put up for sale late last year. Sadly, in order to tell [publicist] Garano how insulting it was to be asked to help a wealthy man make money off of my unacknowledged work, I had to turn down the offer of repayment in the form of an interview with Vallée. I can’t imagine how that would have gone: “So, Mr. Vallée, why did you repeat the same faulty translations, fabrications, and errors from Passport to Magonia in 1969 to Wonders in the Sky in 2009 until I finally caught you, all while holding yourself out as a scrupulous and
rigorous investigator?” I’m sure that would have gone over well.
One of the few talks with any worthwhile content was that by Marc D'Antonio, MUFON's chief photo/video analyst, and special effects guru Douglas Trumbull, famous for his work on many major films. Their talk was titled "Light Years To Earth":
Marc D'Antonio
Marc Dantonio and Douglas Trumbull provide an overview of the latest Exoplanet finds as motivation and reason why we should be looking for signs at home (Earth) of another civilization using advanced propulsion to visit us. Such signs we call the skidmarks of an advanced race.

Marc and Douglas also provide an overview of their system called UFOTOG II which will remotely scan the skies using a variety of instruments, looking for these skidmarks which are actually the indirect physical and instrumental evidence we can  detect of an advanced race using advanced propulsion in our universe.
Douglas Trumbull
D'Antonio asked, Could someone else find us? We think they already have. We have plenty of circumstantial evidence, but no tangible proof.

Trumbull noted that when he was five years old, he was taken to McMinnville, Oregon, home of the famous "classic" UFO photos of Farmer Trent. He saw an unidentified object, looking very much like the one in the photos, while he was there. He also told of discovering an "artifact" at the Airport (I'm not sure if this was still when he was five). However, it turned out to be just some concrete slag. (A concrete "artifact" is supposed to be very significant at the site of the alleged Aztec, N.M. "UFO crash.") These comments seem to suggest that Trumbull has been a UFO buff since at least age five, and apparently not a very discerning one.

Trumbull talked about some of his movies, which include  2001: A Space Odyssey, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Blade Runner, The Andromeda Strain (original version) and The Tree of Life. Theaters are now in decline, he said, a statement with which my son, who manages a large multiplex theater in the San Francisco Bay Area, strongly disagrees. He sees their business booming, especially among the younger folk.

Both speakers talked about their UFOTOG I which was built, and UFOTOG II, which is planned. It is a multiple sensor device that will look for anomalous objects not only visually, but with magnetometers, gravity meters, spectroscopy, gamma ray and other detectors. Large numbers of them will be manufactured to get the costs down, and they will be placed on top of poles in areas where UFOs are being reported. Communicating via cell phone towers, their detection of radiation or magnetic events associated with anomalous objects might confirm that UFOs are “punching in” or out of other dimensions, as permitted by controversial theories in 'new physics.' While I seriously doubt that UFOTOG II, if built, will discover any such objects, you have to give them credit. This is clearly a Testable Hypothesis, a true rarity in UFOlogy. I wish them well.

Trumbull remarked that Jeff Bezos,  the billionaire founder of, is "knowledgeable" about UFOs and is "open to" them, suggesting that Bezos might contribute to such a project.
Dr. Ron Westrum

Sociologist Dr. Ron Westrum, another researcher who has been active in UFOlogy for more than forty years, spoke on "Hidden Events":
When an event is widely experienced but seldom reported, we can refer to it as a “hidden event.” Many anomalous events, including UFOs, by appearing to violate common sense or scientific paradigms, fall into this category. My talk considers three types of hidden events: meteorites (18th century), the battered child syndrome (20th century), and UFOs (current).
He complained that science is too rejecting of "hidden events." He didn't seem to appreciate that if science were to be too accepting of such claims (which are "legion"), it would merge into voodoo. When he got to UFOlogy, Dr. Westrum listed three unreliable sources:
  1. Science
  2. the Military
  3. the Press
He left out #4, the most unreliable of all : UFOlogists and others who make extraordinary claims.

The last scheduled event was a panel discussion on "Mainstream Attitudes Toward UFOs." Dr. Westrum noted that certain subjects are effectively "taboo." He said that the late Cryptozoologist Dr. Roy Mackal told him that he realized he could never be promoted to full professor at the University of Chicago because of his pursuit of  Nessie and other dubious beasts.

The question was raised: why are UFOlogists so hostile to SETI? My answer is: because SETI hopes to provide evidence of alien intelligence someday, far out in space, while UFOlogists claim that the aliens are already here, but hiding.

Somebody mentioned a journalistic UFO hoax, and Lee Speigel remarked, "I hate it when fellow journalists just make up crap!"

Next year's UFO Congress will be in the same location, February 15-19, 2017.

Look who won the raffle at the Banquet for the lovely painting of "star people" by a Native American artist  - it's Leda Beluche!