Paranormal investigators often lament the lack of scientific interest in anomalous or paranormal claims. Many have stated they want to contribute to a shift in thinking about these anomalies, to “prove to science” (or scientists) that “the paranormal” exists. Some want to “change the science”. None of this makes any sense, though, since science is not a monolithic thing, it’s a body of knowledge, a process to obtain that knowledge, and a network that collects, analyses and distributes that knowledge. A few arrogant people can’t overturn centuries of accumulated knowledge and an established process by their collected anecdotes and bits of questionable evidence.
It’s also a mistake to say that science hasn’t paid any attention to such claims. As I describe in my book Scientifical Americans, the most reputable scientists diligently examined and argued the reality and explanation for encounters with ghosts, UFOs, sea serpents, and Bigfoot. They found nothing worth pursuing.
Yet, here I am, a scientist by training, who is willing to examine your evidence of the paranormal. It’s funny, though, not many people contact me with pieces of evidence. Sure, we get a few requests via the Anomalies Research Society each year. None have ever risen to the level where I (or Kenny) felt baffled. It’s often very clearly something quite ordinary at the root of these claims.
This week I experienced another incident of an amateur paranormalist imbuing a find with far more meaning that it deserves. I’ll leave out names because, as I describe, I did not get permission to share the details as it was on a mutual Facebook friend’s wall, which was not public. I’ll do my best to describe the exchange. A little sleuthing might reveal details if you want that or contact me privately. But specifics aren’t really the point. This incident illustrates a number of common egregious errors that paranormalists make. (I use the term paranormalist to mean a person who is outwardly promoting the existence of something beyond our current scientific knowledge as an explanatory cause.)
My acquaintance posted a thread about an object from several years back that was purported to be an alien artifact – a piece of a UFO perhaps. This object is substantial, but it does not look manufactured or particularly technological. As a geologist, it looked like a stalactite of some sort, perhaps from a foundry operation. It turns out that’s what it probably was. Further on in the thread, a New England-based paranormal investigator (I’ll call him P.I.) posted a screen capture photo of what he described as himself holding what he believed could be an alien artifact. I don’t have permission to share the picture and can’t find it online. He did not disclose the location except to say it was from a “secret” investigation in Pennsylvania that was still “ongoing”. He said it was from a site that had many other strange goings-on which I assumed to be not only UFO sightings (obvious from the alien source of the artifact) but perhaps unusual creatures or environmental observations. Such reports have been associated with “window” areas of “high strangeness”.
I don’t know anything about the case, but what was quite obvious to me was that he was holding a rock that looked like a typical iron concretion type commonly found in PA. These can look odd. They are heavy, usually nodular, or elongated because they were subjected to geologic stresses over hundreds of millions of years. They have various regional names (one of which is unforgivably racist). I would find them all the time in the anthracite region of Columbia and Schuylkill Counties. To show you how bizarre they can be, here are pictures of one I have obtained near Centralia, PA some 20 years ago.
There are old-timers who considered concretions like this to be human artifacts and hyped them as evidence that the rock and coal veins were not ancient but only thousands of years old. This is ridiculous as many and various lines of evidence tell us how old the Pennsylvanian geological epoch is. One guy with a kooky interpretation isn’t going to overturn that. But people see what they want to see in nature. Some see my concretion as an alien head. I see it as entirely coincidental shape explainable by our human tendency to see familiar forms in random things.
Anyway, back to the claim about this new PA alien artifact. P.I. noted that it looked like metal but was not magnetic. You could see bits of dark material in relief above the orange iron oxide coating similar to this:
He said pieces were “sent out to different institutes and they had no clue what it is”. I replied with the following:
This looks quite natural – an iron oxide with other minerals. I’ve seen such things just outside the coal regions in PA. Did these “institutes” respond or did they just say “it’s a rock” and not respond at all.
I’ve seen many a piece of clinker that people think is from space. It’s a fallacy to assume it’s out of this world just because it looks weird or you’ve never seen anything like it before.
P.I. reiterated it was not a rock or metal and that “they” from a “very top place” couldn’t identify it. What is a “very top place”? Was it a top place for identifying alien artifacts? (That would be rather weird.) Top geologists looked at it? A University? Who? What exactly were they given? I asked for documentation. He said it will be forthcoming. No timetable or location of the upcoming report was provided. Typically, such report never appear as promised. Paranormal investigators rarely publish a complete report, and if they do, it’s put on a website or as part of commercial media. When our mutual acquaintance suggested to P.I. that we all cooperate and inquired about what form the published findings would take, P.I. resorted to an excuse of confidentiality to “protect” the owners. The owners of the artifact, he said, did not wish to loan it out for examination, which strongly suggests they feel it is otherworldly or special. This investigation seems tainted.
Another person then chimed in to say that my above comments were insulting. I inquired about exactly what was it I said that was insulting but he didn’t explain. Many people construe fair criticism as hostile. It’s not. He made the extraordinary claim, not me. As such, I feel perfectly within acceptable social norms to question such speculation. If you state that you are a researcher, I expect you will be fair-minded in a discussion about the topic and not peddle nonsense. I wasn’t insulting him; I was providing an informed, qualified opinion that should have been given some consideration. But it wasn’t what they wanted to hear. Real life is that way sometimes.
I tried to go back to review the rest of the exchange to summarize here but it’s been deleted. Checking with the host of the thread, he tells me he did not delete it. Perhaps P.I. felt he’d said too much or I had backed him into a corner he couldn’t get out of so he deleted his subthread. I messaged P.I. privately offering my help to examine the case confidentially, in good faith, and I apologized for coming off as “insulting”. My intent, I made clear, was to find answers, because I am curious too. I got no reply. That’s when I looked further into his online presence to find he is a regular podcaster and speaker at paranormal events but has no noted scientific credentials. I also looked for more info on this case when I came across a list on the webpage of another team that cooperates with P.I. It explicitly stated they were all investigating a case in Western Pennsylvania from 2016 to the present which was described as “a wide-ranging paranormal flap involving Bigfoot, shadow people, UFOs and apparent government monitoring.” Sounds like this could be the case. No other details were given. Why advertise this if you aren’t willing to share information?
If researchers are serious about finding out the real solutions to these claims, why would they not want the help of a geologist and fellow paranormal researcher nearby? Why wouldn’t he say who “they” were who failed to ID the object? Why is this all so secret? Why did he overlook the obvious?Why would he think this is a piece of machinery when it doesn’t look manufactured? I think the answer is pretty clear.
P.I. and others like him portray themselves to their network and to the public as professional, serious, knowledgeable, even scientific, yet they are bluffing. This hyped-up mystery mongering is why ARIGs get a bad reputation with scientists. There are plenty of us who are willing to help research their questions. They appear to not really want to know the answers and instead engage in a sham version of inquiry that starts with a paranormal premise and looks only for support for that premise. This exchange has resulted in me doubting his quality of “research” and his integrity. A researcher/investigator is obliged to seek out the best information, not create additional layers of fantasy, mystery and drama. Hundreds of people go to paranormal investigators promoted on the web as reputable hoping they will get an expert opinion. That’s not happening. I do hope P.I. changes his mind or at least considers that this alien artifact is entirely terrestrial and delivers that straight to his client.
I remain open to requests to examine potentially paranormal evidence. I can’t personally investigate them all but I will take a look. I will not hesitate to conclude “I don’t know” if I really have no idea. Paranormalists make such extraordinary efforts to gather evidence and ponder cases yet remain overly committed to supernatural ideas – such a waste of time! It’s not fair to their clients that they ignore obvious conclusions in order to advance their personal paranormal agendas. This happens every day, everywhere, from Bigfoot in the backyard to lights in the sky. And they call skeptics mean and closed-minded! I’m not having it. This kind of nonsense makes me angry and it should make all ethical researchers angry. If you make an extraordinary claim, such as saying something is a suspected alien artifact, you sure as hell better have more to back it up than wishful thinking and personal weird experiences. I’m sure P.I. now thinks I’m one of those nasty skeptics, but he’s the one who could end up being disingenuous and taking people for a ride.