Saucers, Lies and Audio Tape

The UFO field has produced more than its fair share of frauds and charlatans. One of the most amusing and yet appalling things about this fact is that, even after exposure, many of these hoaxers are warmly welcomed back into the arms of believers.

Adamski-fry

George Adamski (L) and Dan Fry

George Adamski, the UFO contactee, for instance, was outed as a complete fraud in a definitive and devastating exposé published by my friend, Jim Moseley (Saucer News, October 1957). And yet Adamski is still has many apologists. Their rationalizations usually take the form of claiming  that Adamski saw something "real" initially but then hoaxed his later photos and sightings, all for the good cause of fostering fellowship between man and the Space Brothers. Recently, the prolific (and none too picky) paranormal author, Nick Redfern's "Contactees: A History of Alien-human Interaction" treated the claims of many known frauds as serious and worthy of discussion, instead of silly and worthy of laughter. One does what one must in order to sell books, I suppose.

An amusing glimpse of how these con men work was seen when Daniel Fry, another contactee, was publicly deconstructed on a radio program (The Betty Grobley Show, November 1966) by Phillip Klass. In that program, Klass systematically shows that Dr. Fry's claimed PhD came from a "university" that doesn't seem to actually exist. He also got Fry to admit that many of his claimed professional credentials were fraudulent. It is fascinating (and very funny) to hear Fry in action on that program. For instance:

Betty:     "Did you say you are you a graduate engineer? You have a BA?"

Fry:         "I am not a graduate engineer in the sense that would be accepted…"

Betty:     "Where did you get your BA from?

Fry:         "Uh, I have not said that I have a BA"

Betty      " Well, how can you get a PhD if you don't have a BA or an MA?"

Fry:        "Uh, this is beyond my understanding…"

Note the grey rectangles below are audio players containing supporting material.

Grobley Show  

Second_lower_shot "Understanding" was ironically the name of Fry's metaphysical organization. Despite revelations such as those above, there are still those who think Fry should be taken seriously. Noted UFO author, Timothy Good, in discussing one of Fry's UFO films (the sad saucer is obviously a prop dangling from a string), says this, "But does this prove that Fry was lying about all his previous experiences?  I think not. Most probably, he thought that a few fabricated movie films of 'saucers' would bolster his unprovable claims."

Apparently there is nothing that a UFO huckster might do that would discourage or cause a second thought for the true believer and those who make a living by peddling paranormal ideas.

Recently, I became interested in the claims of respected UFO and paranormal author, Philip J. Imbrogno. Imbrogno has written many paranormal books. Perhaps his best known was the account of the Hudson Valley UFO sightings he co-authored with J. Allen Hynek, Night Siege.

This spring, Imbrogno and his co-author, Rosemary Ellen Guiley, were making the rounds of all the paranormal talk shows to promote their book, The Vengeful Djinn: Unveiling the Hidden Agenda of Genies. I know that the title sounds like a put-on but no, they really were selling a book about vengence seeking genies! I listened to one of Imbrogno's appearances and was struck at how little he had in the way of evidence. This was never an issue on the shows because the last thing any of the hosts of these shows ever ask for is evidence.

Another thing was quite striking about Imbrogno: he was a real scientist. Imbrogno's bio, as it appeared on his web site (and was faithfully recited by most of the radio hosts) partially went like this:

"Imbrogno holds undergraduate and graduate degrees in physics, astronomy and chemistry from the University of Texas and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 2010 he was awarded a Ph.D. in theoretical chemistry from MIT. He is a staff member of the McCarthy Observatory in New Milford, Connecticut, and is a founder and former director of the Astronomical Society Of Greenwich, and former director of the Bowman Observatory."

Here is a web archive of the bio as it looked back in May 2011:

Download Bio (requires Safari)

Mitshirt Pretty impressive. From every indication, Imbrogno is an accomplished man of science, certainly a rarity in the more earthy environs of the paranormal.

But one thing was bugging me.

It really started with the shirt.

Many websites carrried a photo of Imbrogno in an MIT T-shirt. A New York Times article about Imbrogno actually mentions him showing up in the shirt.

I started thinking to myself, "Man, he is selling MIT pretty hard!" It seemed a little desperate to me. This was the whole reason I decided to look into the claims of Imbrogno.

I really didn't expect to find anything. I certainly didn't expect to discover anything so easily. Using the Degreeverify.com service, I ran a search to see if I could verify his degree claims with MIT. The results came back negative. I was shocked. 

At this point, I still thought that I could have made a mistake in my query (in my first try, I spelled "Philip" with 2 "l's"). I also didn't know how reliable the online search was.

So I contacted the registrar's office at MIT. A very nice lady there helped me and kindly sent me this response:

MIT Imbrogno Redact
A telephone conversation with the office further determined that there has never been a student with the last name "Imbrogno" attending classes at MIT. Wow. Can it really be that easy?

While I was looking into this, I also contacted several paranormal talk show hosts and personalities to see if they might shed some light on the matter. I wanted to see if there was something I missed. Was I barking up the wrong tree?

Many of these folks initially greeted my inquiries with suspicion. Chris O'Brien, co-host of the Paracast radio program, asked me "Who elected you credentials cop anyway?"

Soon I noticed that Imbrogno's Djinn book web site had been quietly changed. All mention of MIT and other achievements had been removed! In the meantime, I looked into those observatories mentioned in his bio. They both seem to be volunteer-run amateur facilities at a high schools. Phil was on the volunteer staff of one. 

One day an announcement appeared at the Djinn site from his co-author, Guiley:

"Philip J. Imbrogno has informed me that he is withdrawing from the paranormal and will no longer be involved in research, including the Djinn. 

Soon after, Guiley added another sentence:

"I have ended my research and writing collaboration with him."

I managed to get in touch with Imbrogno to ask him for his response to this matter. His answers to me seemed evasive. He never claimed to have the degrees. Instead he made three bizzare and incompatible excuses.

EXCUSE 1: Other people had mistakenly made the MIT claims not him.

In an email to me, Imbrogno said:

"I don't know why you are after me. There have been multiple mistakes in my background listed, I don't know how but things happen."

EXCUSE 2: He used a second legal name when registered at school.

From his email:

In any event I register at school with a different name than I write with.

The problem with this is that he uses the name he writes with for everything else. It's the name his phone is listed under and the name he uses at his teaching job. It doesn't make sense that he would have chosen another name JUST for the purpose of going to school. Is it even legal to have two legal names? I don't know. And the reason he gave me for this was strange:

"I respect your work, however the name I  write with is different than the name I use to register for reasons of people in the UFO field trying to track me down."

Huh? I had no problem tracking him down. I just uh, used his name!

EXCUSE 3: He made stuff up about his background in order to confuse UFO stalkers.

This excuse came in a later email after I had told him that I actually had found interviews in which he himself claimed the MIT degrees (which destroys excuse number 1).

"I really have no recollection of saying that if I did It was most likely to secure my privacyI will often give misleading information about myself to secure my privacy. Once again you will just be going around in circles. I have NEVER given  information out when dealing with UFOs and the paranormal that I can be traced back too because of stalkers. As far as you know I could have a degree in Engineering!. Its because of nut cases that I protect myself and personal information." 

Imbrogno and MIT 

I was still undecided about what to do with my information. Imbrogno had threatened me in his emails with legal action (apparently unfamiliar with the 1st amendment) and I was rather satisfied that he had decided to leave the field. I didn't know just what I wanted to do.

In the end, someone else broke the story for me. The Paracast show (and a suddenly more skeptical O'Brien) revealed my findings (without my input and without mentioning my name, naturally) and soon the internet was buzzing about the revelations.

After the story came to light there was much use of hind sight. Lots of folks claimed that they knew all along that Imbrogno's stories were too good to be true. Indeed, I found some threads that did seriously question the tales and Imbrogno's credibility but so many more people wrote about what a fantastic researcher he was and how he was their favorite author, things like that.

I had to listen to lots of terrible podcasts to find Imbrogno making the MIT claim himself. He usually just let the host read the bio and never commented on it. While listening, I certainly wondered why folks believed this man was a great scientist when all I could hear was his sometimes poor grammar and odd pronunciations of words ("A-NOM-A-NA-LY for "anomaly, "CAV-REN" for "cavern", for instance).

Worst of all were the stories.

His stories sounded like poorly written fiction to me. There was a certain aspect to the tales that made them sound as though they were being thought of right off the top of his head. For example, Imbrogno makes much of his association with the esteemed J. Allen Hynek. He mentions Hynek often in interviews and stresses their close relationship. In one story, Imbrogno related Hynek's opinion of the famous Roswell UFO story.

"He [Hynek] believed that the Roswell crash never happened. He told me that he believed that it was this Project Mogul." 

Imbrogno on Hynek and Roswell

I see a big problem with this story and Kevin Randle, probably the foremost expert on Roswell, agrees: the Project Mogul balloon scenario for the Roswell Incident had not been discussed until the mid-1990's. Hynek died in 1986.

Other researchers have since posted their findings about other aspects of the Imbrogno story. They are reporting that they cannot find records of any of his claimed undergraduate degrees. Long-time UFO authority, Don Ecker, says that Imbrogno's claims of service in the US Special Forces also appear to be bogus. There are apparently other revelations in the works.

Sadly and predictably, there are already a few apologists for Imbrogno. A writer at one forum said:

"I think whether he faked his credentials or not is a moot point. There, I've said it. We do indeed have to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Just because one element is false does not automatically mean that any other elements are also logically false."

But the vast majority of folks seemed to think that this incident should signal a new way of looking into the claims made by paranormal purveyors, some of them calling for a vetting process before allowing people on the air.

I hope that does happen but, knowing the history of the subject, I certainly have my doubts.

I would like to offer thanks to Angelo Fiorentino, Don Ecker, Ron Collins, Ricky Poole, Kevin Randle, Gene Steinberg and Jeff Ritzmann for their invaluable help in preparing this story.

Advertisements

Bigfoot Hunters Expose Their Own Show, Finding Bigfoot in Review

485295126eigfoot.jpg

A new paranormal reality show has found some unlikely critics: its own stars. The new Animal Planet show, Finding Bigfoot, is already being debunked by its own on-camera team of Bigfoot hunters.

Finding Bigfoot is designed from the same mold as a TV ghost hunting show with a crack team of Bigfoot "experts" going to different places each week to search for the elusive North American apeman. The team arrives at a location, listens to the stories of the locals and then uses (and often misuses) various technical gear to pretend to find evidence. Each episode features the same tired producton techniques of other reality shows: fast cutting, re-creations, night vision footage, sound effects and silly face-mounted cameras to build excitement out of basically nothing.

Is it a bad sign that the official Animal Planet press release for the show refers to the team by first name only? Lesser shows might have soberly discussed the credentials of their scientific team and perhaps even mentioned their last names. But paranormal reality shows don't roll that way so presenting the team members as characters fits right into the spirit of the thing.

The team, Matt, Cliff, Bobo, & Ranae usually attempt to re-create a piece of Bigfoot footage or evidence each time, perhaps imagining that such pointless activity shows a scientific approach or maybe this is just another way to pad out the hour.

Much use is made of a FLIR thermal imaging camera as the team walks around the woods at night looking for a "Squatch" (apparently the producers decided that this term is snappier than "Bigfoot" because everyone on the team uses it in an embarrassingly self-consious way).

In a recent show, the team stumbled upon an upright figure in a field. The figured showed up very brightly on the FLIR. It was hard to make out just what it was but it looked alive.

The team approached closer and closer and, just as it seemed we might find out what the object was, the producers clumsily cut away from the FLIR image and we are told (but not shown!) that the creature disappeared into the surrounding brush. We lost Bigfoot!

As a viewer, this was a most frustrating experience. Why did they cut away? What was that figure?

Matt Moneymaker explained the whole thing on the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization (BFRO) forums:

Flir_Thermal_Imaging_Equine "The heat blip in the meadow was a horse. I said so on camera. I talked about the horse for a good long while. I figured the producers would edit it honestly, but they didn’t. Their editing made it look as though I did not identify the figure before it ran off. I did. It was a horse. They inserted lines from other scenes where I talk about something running away before I could figure out what it was."

Moneymaker, founder of the BFRO, is leader of the Finding Bigfoot team. His statements are a rare revelation from the actual makers of a paranormal show that what they are doing is cynically and completely fake.

In another show Matt is again in the woods viewing things through the FLIR and sees a figure on a hill above him. He takes off yelling and wildly running after it. We see fleeting glimpses of humanoid figure fleeing. Is it Bigfoot? Alas, the creature gets away again. Should the show really be called "Losing Bigfoot?"

After some stilted and manufactured drama in which the team argues with Matt about how wise it is to run off alone after a potential huge hairy unknown creature, Matt ends the argument by saying, "Let's go back and look at the tape." For some reason we viewers are not shown the tape again. Why would that be?

Moneymaker says:

"… the thing I ran after up the hill was a human — someone who was sneaking around us in the woods trying to watch the production in progress. I said so repeatedly and vehemently at the time, for the cameras, but they edited out all of that in order to make it seem unclear what I was chasing after."

Other members of the team also seem to be upset with the way the show came out. In another forum, someone claiming to be Bobo wrote about the show:

"Everything Matt said is true. We’re getting screwed. You people have no idea how much Matt and I fought with the producers to have any legitimacy on this show…Sorry to all of the squatchers that are bummed out on how they’re doing it. I assure it isn’t us."

While it is perfectly reasonable to assume that the producers of this low budget, low ethics show might be willing to fake things to attract more viewers, it should also be said that the Finding Bigfoot team itself shows very little in the way of scientific integrity or know-how.

It's like a perfect storm in which the worst kind of producers meet the most credulous of believers. It's a match made in crackpot heaven.

One obvious example of the team's lack of scientific rigor is how they take take "evidence" that they have gathered from widely separated areas and claim that these unrelated bits of information somehow corroborate and support some other bit of unlikely evidence, a blurry video, for instance.

In one of their superfluous re-creations, the team has Bobo position himself near a stump in order to simulate a supposed "real" Bigfoot video in which Bigfoot steals a candy bar. Using an infrared camera, the team's efforts look exactly like the original video which proves that the figure in that tape must have been man-sized, not Bigfoot-sized.

Undeterred, the team immediately decides that the "Bigfoot" in the original video must have been a baby one. It is obvious that, regardless of their findings, this team is always going see Bigfoot wherever they go. Their theories are unfalsifiable, a sure sign of pseudoscience. Why even do the re-creation if the outcome is already known?

Matt makes unintentionally funny pronouncements over and over on the show. He proclaims that Bigfeet like peanut butter, that Bigfeet like to walk along electrical lines, that Bigfeet hunt and slaughter deer in a certain way. For Matt, Bigfoot exists everywhere and is a known quantity. The only thing Matt lacks is an actual, you know, Bigfoot.

This is all very funny except there is a good possibility that the show received good ratings and thus will return for another season. Matt vows that things will be different if that happens. From what we have seen so far, at least there is nothing that can make this show any worse.