Monday, 4 May 2009

Morristown, New Jersey UFO Hoax – Looking For Pseudoscience In All The Wrong Places?

As regular readers no doubt know I have always been interested in UFO hoaxes and the various guises in which they manifest for nearly as long as I have been interested in genuinely unexplainable UFO reports, in fact if the truth be known then the UFO hoax aspect is practically inseparable from the broader UFO phenomenon itself and I believe hoaxes and their effects are also more than worthy of study, or at the very least acknowledgement…..

Eskeptic published an admission last month (April 1st 2009) by Joe Rudy (who holds a B.S. in science and actually teaches science as well as beings a private classical music teacher) and Chris Russo (who has a degree in management and economics and is a former model & actor) that they had personally perpetrated (and documented on video) the Morristown UFO Sightings (Jan 2009).

In the Eskeptic reveal which was titled, “How We Staged the Morristown UFO Hoax” Chris Russo & Joe Rudy wrote:



“In November of 2008, we found ourselves sitting around one evening discussing pseudoscience and the large numbers of people that still believe in its various guises. We had always had a strong interest in why people were so easily fooled by such irrational superstitions as psychic ability, spiritual mediums, alien abductions, and the like. Despite the lack of evidence to support these notions, we were baffled. How could so many people in an age of science still buy into dogma that is no more or less ridiculous than the notion of an elderly obese man delivering presents to every child on Earth in one evening? And like most other people, we had always heard about the uneducated farmer spotting an alien spaceship hovering over his farm, but we wondered if that amount of gullibility could be found in our upper-middle class hometown of Hanover, NJ, and the surrounding cities. “

“…..60 years later, despite the fact that there is still no evidence of their existence, the UFO myth is as strong today as ever, fed by cable channel shows that prop up UFO “experts” who claim to be authorities on a subject that's on par with astrology and palm reading. These charlatans make a career by perpetuating the E.T. fairy tale and exploiting credulous people who want nothing more than a good conspiracy theory to believe in.”

“It is in this context that we set out on a mission to help people think rationally and question the credibility of so-called UFO “professionals.” We brainstormed the idea of producing a spaceship hoax to fool people, bring the charlatans out of the woodwork to drum up controversy, and then expose it as nothing more than a prank to show everyone how unreliable eyewitness accounts are, along with investigators of UFOs.”

Source: Eskeptic



So, puzzled as to why people still believed in pseudoscience they ‘set out on a mission' to produce a ‘spaceship hoax,' well, each to their own and that's fair enough I suppose, however it appears that far from being an experiment of any description and the entire catalogue of events was nothing more than a fishing trip of sorts, but an experiment?

Perhaps, but surely the only real conclusion that can be drawn is that ‘confirmation bias' was inherent and that the ‘experiment' was rendered useless by applying the pseudoscientific method (that they claim to abhor) with such liberal disregard.


Identifying pseudoscience” - A field, practice, or body of knowledge might reasonably be called pseudoscientific when (1) it is presented as consistent with the accepted norms of scientific research; but (2) it demonstrably fails to meet these norms, most importantly, in misuse of scientific method. (Source)

Ah yes, the scientific method…..


Scientific method”- Refers to bodies of techniques for investigating phenomena, acquiring new knowledge, or correcting and integrating previous knowledge. To be termed scientific, a method of inquiry must be based on gathering observable, empirical and measurable evidence subject to specific principles of reasoning. A scientific method consists of the collection of data through observation and experimentation, and the formulation and testing of hypotheses.....Although procedures vary from one field of inquiry to another, identifiable features distinguish scientific inquiry from other methodologies of knowledge..... Among other facets shared by the various fields of inquiry is the conviction that the process be objective to reduce a biased interpretation of the results. (Source)



So one of the main identifiers of pseudoscience is ‘misuse of the scientific method' which in turn shares a universally accepted & steadfast rule that it must be ‘objective to reduce a biased interpretation of the results,' yet Russo and Rudy after launching their balloons would call the news media to report a UFO sighting and can be seen doing so on the video, saying, "There are really strange lights in Morristown…..Doesn't look like a plane or anything." Not content with that they also appeared on TV further supporting the hoax by giving interviews of their ‘UFO sightings' and by doing so completely contaminated any results and consequently any/all conclusions.

But personally speaking, it was the actual reporting on the hoax which forced that old familiar feeling of contempt to stir, contempt the kind of which is almost exclusively reserved for journalists and politicians. However I suspect I run the risk of appearing to be generalising to an extent equal to that which I so often accuse the mass-media of, so I'll specify as it's ‘Newsweek' in particular I'm referring to. Of course this is nothing that hasn't been mentioned across the Blogosphere prior to my meagre contribution, most notably by Billy Cox, who in an article titled, “Nicely Done Newsweak” wrote:



“What's actually more revealing is how, within hours, Newsweek was the first to cheerlead the caper for its novel approach to promoting critical thinking. ‘Nicely done, guys,' wrote Sharon Begley for the magazine's Web page.”

Source: HeraldTribune



The crux of the complaints (mine included) is that -tactless reporting aside- the media took a great deal more notice once the fact that it was a hoax was admitted, and positively relished the opportunity to yet again portray the UFO community in a negative light, worse still it appears as if they believed they were justified in doing so, completely ignoring the suspect methodology employed by the hoaxers and instead actually championing the flawed experiment, “Nicely done guys” indeed……

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