It’s a rare thing to see the conceits of establishment science splashed out in the Letters to the Editor. But that’s just what happened over the past week in The Tallahassee Democrat. Check it out:
Since late August, the Mary Brogan Museum of Art & Science in Tallahassee has been hosting a Roswell Exhibit. Old news clippings from that 1947 UFO event, audio, space aliens, all that. The display runs through December.
Last weekend, the Museum also sponsored two lectures by Stan Friedman, who helped revive public curiosity in the coverup by turning his research into several books. Florida State University physics prof Dr. Paul Cottle, an otherwise thoughtful guy who helped revise teaching standards in Florida schools, hit the roof and uncorked an ad hominem tirade.
Leading with how his peers had worked hard to protect students from “the threat of pseudoscience undermining scientific literacy in our state,” Cottle labeled Friedman “a well known charlatan,” questioned his credentials as a nuclear physicist, and accused the Museum of undermining efforts to “improve the scientific environment in Tallahassee.”
That sparked a swift riposte from Museum executive director Chucha Barber. Friedman, she wrote, “received B.S. and M.S. degrees in physics from the University of Chicago in 1956 and 1956. He was employed for 14 years as a nuclear physicist for such companies as GE, GM, Westinghouse, TRW Systems, Aerojet General Nucleonics and McDonnell Douglas.”
Furthermore, “Last I checked, Florida public education was not including beliefs about UFOs among testing standards.” In defending the Museum’s mission, Barber added: “UFOs and dinosaurs attract people of all ages to, we hope, seek truth, learn more and perhaps be entertained while inspired.”
That generated a broadside from Dr. Gregory Boebinger, director of the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory in Tallahassee. Boebinger said Barber’s letter “misses the point” of Cottle’s critique.
“Is the Brogan planning to host future exhibits on palm reading and astrology? Surely,” he wrote, “when a science museum hosts often-debunked pseudoscience, it is not only using ‘a variety of entertaining experiences to attract audiences to science,’ as Ms. Barber contends, but also insidiously endorsing pseudoscience and attracting our children and the public away from science.”
UFOs = palm reading and astrology? Boebinger forgot to add pedophilia.
Anyhow, the best efforts of Cottle and Boebinger went for naught. According to Barber, Friedman lectured to a packed house; people had to be turned away.
“But what troubled me about it,” Barber says, “is that I’ve been in this business for 25 years and I’ve never felt compelled to write a letter to the editor defending my museum experiences. Getting people to think is what we’re supposed to do.”
Barber recalls the spirited debate that unfolded last summer when members of the Museum’s science and arts committees contemplated staging the Roswell Exhibit. “One of the science guys said, ‘This isn’t science,’ and one of the others said, ‘I don’t know why it wouldn’t be science.’ A great dialogue ensued and my board president turned to me and said, ‘We’re gonna host the Roswell Exhibit.’
“The museum doesn’t promote a particular ideology or a point of view on Roswell. But clearly, it creates a lot of emotion, and who’s to say a kid who sees this stuff won’t be motivated to learn more about the universe?”
From his home in New Brunswick, Canada, Friedman is still smarting from Cottle’s attack. “Since when is name-calling a scientist’s appropriate response to something?” he says. “He calls me a charlatan without giving any reason for it, and he labels UFOs a pseudoscience without stating why. It’s science by proclamation.”
Being scientists, no doubt Cottle and Boebinger are familiar with Project Blue Book Special Report #14, in which Air Force analysts determined that roughly 20 percent of their UFO reports were legitimate unknowns by the mid-1950s. And of course they’d read the disturbing 1999 French COMETA Report, presented by the Institute of Higher Studies for National Defense with a foreword by the former chair of the French National Center for Space Studies.
Naturally, being scientists, they had also acquainted themselves with “The UFO Enigma: A New Review of the Physical Evidence,” authored by a team of scientists assembled by Dr. Peter Sturrock, professor emeritus of applied physics at Stanford University.
And, in the rigorous spirit of scientific inquiry, they had probably already reviewed the FAA/National Weather Service radar records of the Stephenville, Tex., UFO incident in January. Surely, they had perfectly logical explanations for why the military refuses to release its own radar records, as well as the uncensored flight logs of the F-16s that pursued the object.
De Void wanted to discuss the pseudoscientific aspects of these and other studies with the offended parties. But Cottle’s e-mail response was terse: “I'm not going to comment further. My letter to the editor was a message to my local community, and I'm going to leave it at that.”
Boebinger didn’t bother to respond at all.