Respectful Insolence

Alien or puppet? You be the judge!

Even here at the ASCO meeting, I couldn’t help but be made aware (thanks to Steve Novella and others) about a brand-spanking new video of a supposed encounter with an alien that–unlike all the other dubious videos of alleged alien encounters–according to its maker will really and truly convince you that, really and truly, Aliens Are Real And Earth Has Been Visited by them. Why, you may ask, would I blog about such things when I’m at a meeting? Well, writing about clinical science is hard, and I haven’t had time to analyze the abstracts that I wanted to analyze, and blogging about this is easy and fun. True, blogging about the idiocy that will be descending upon Washington, D.C. in two days led by Jenny McCarthy is also easy, but it’s depressing, not fun. Besides, look at the picture!

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Steve mentioned that only part of the video would be shown. Let’s see what UFO buffs are saying about this video, shot by Stan Tiger Romanek, now that a snippet of it has been shown:

A few minutes of grainy, black and white video show a shadowy creature with big eyes peeping over a windowsill. But does it show a puppet or an alien from outer space?

The video, purportedly capturing proof of alien life, was released this morning during a press conference at the Tivoli Student Union on the Auraria campus in downtown Denver.

Over the course of three minutes or so, the footage shows a white creature with a balloon-shaped head that keeps popping up and down in a windowsill that was 8 feet above ground. The face was white, with large black eyes that seemed to blink.

“If it was a puppet, it would be a very elaborate and sophisticated puppet,” said Alejandro Rojas, education director of MUFON, the Mutual UFO Network, who spoke at the press conference.

If the above photo (click to enlarge) is any indication, no, it wouldn’t. Of course, Steve Novella nailed it on the head:

I predict the quality of the video (distance, focus, clarity) will be just good enough to evoke the sense of an alien but not good enough to distinguish the creature in the video from some special effect (puppet, guy in a costume, CG).

Good prediction. Of course, it doesn’t diminish my respect for Steve one iota to point out that it was also a very easy prediction to make. After all, virtually every video or picture presented as “proof” of aliens (or Bigfoot or flying saucers, or the Loch Ness monster) is grainy and of sufficient quality to look sort of like what people expect to see but not of sufficient quality to tell conclusively if it’s a fake or not. Seemingly no one in 60 years has been able to do better, even now, with the so-called “best photos” being pretty crappy. I mean, come on! These days, my camera phone has a two megapixel camera that can take pretty darned good pictures. Compact and light video cameras capable of high definition video are becoming cheaper and cheaper and thus more and more common. You’d think that somebody somewhere would have done better than grainy, out-of-focus or blurred images. Really, do they even make black and white video cameras anymore? Why would Mr. Romanek change the setting on his video camera to black and white or process the video to black and white? Even in 2003, when the videos were allegedly shot, good quality video cameras were inexpensive and common I know, I know, he claims it’s an infrared camera, but if that’s the case then why did he just happen to have it pointing at the window at the right moment and, if he could afford an infrared camera, why couldn’t he afford a better video cameral for all the other videos and photos he took? Also, notice how pictures that are clear show nothing that can in any way be considered slam-dunk evidence of aliens or U.F.O.’s. (Note to Stan Romenek: You need to fix the code on your site for Flash video; it doesn’t render properly on Safari or Firefox.)

Of course, here’s the real reason why not all the video was shown:

A documentary is in production that will include much more of the videotape and other evidence, he says. It is due to be released later this year.

Of course it is, and he’ll probably sell it for a tidy sum to some cable TV station that tends to like to air such things. It wouldn’t do to show everything; the above shot is clearly just a teaser. It’s a lame teaser, but a teaser nonetheless. Naturally, though, The Man is trying to suppress evidence that there are aliens out there abducting men like Mr. Romanek:

Peckman has organized an initiative drive to require the city of Denver to create an Extraterrestrial Affairs Commission to handle alien encounters, saying that the government has not disclosed all it knows about the existence of life beyond Earth.

During the press conference, Peckman frequently referenced the initiative. A petition drive is currently underway. Peckman needs 4,000 signatures for the item to make it onto the November ballot.

Peckman also said the technological benefits of making contact with extraterrestrials make it a very worthwhile endeavor.

Governments and industry giants have an incentive to keep a growing body of evidence of the existence of aliens hushed up, Peckman said, because the technology they could bring eclipses anything available on Earth.

If you live in Denver, I’m sure you’ll be more than happy to sign this petition and vote for this lovely initiative to waste taxpayer money. But Peckman’s last statement brings up a point that’s always bugged me: If aliens have such amazing technology that they can travel to Earth from many light years away, then why, if they don’t want Earthlings to know of their presence, are they so bad at hiding completely? Or why, if they can travel that far, do they care if we know they’re here? Or even: Why is this particular alien reduced to peeping through a window repeatedly? Couldn’t he just scan the interior of the house. Finally, another question that always comes to mind is: Could the government really keep irrefutable evidence of alien visitations a secret? Wouldn’t somebody talk?

Oh, well, it’s just another example of the endearingly paranoid looniness of believers in alien visitations and abductions. I’ll finish by trying to one-up Steve in a prediction–multiple predictions, actually. I predict that, when the documentary is released, that there will be lots more grainy, black and white video that’s just good enough to look like the big-headed, big-eyed aliens that the media has cemented in our consciousness as what aliens look like but not of high enough resolution to tell for sure if it’s a fake. I further predict that Mr. Peckman will not take Steve’s advice on how to present the evidence in a scientific manner, so that those of us interested in these claims can evaluate them fairly and rigorously:

What I ask of Peckman and any others who wish to be taken seriously is that their evidence be presented in a scientific manner. That means we need transparency and documentation. We need to know who made the video, when, with what equipment, and we need the original media on which it was recorded. We want to investigate the location and the individuals involved. Peckman can protect his interests, but if he wants to be viewed as anything other than just another UFO crank, he needs to be completely forthcoming. We’ll see.

Finally, I predict that believers will believe Peckman, and the rest of us will either chuckle or yawn when the finished product comes out. But, hey, you never know. Maybe Peckman does have slam-dunk evidence of alien visitation. If he does, he sure has a funny way of showing it.

Comments

  1. #1 Brian
    June 2, 2008

    Well, there is another possibility. The aliens are just here to screw with us. Oh, and they love playing peek-a-boo with the humans.

  2. #2 Matthew Platte
    June 2, 2008

    [From the Denver Post article] Photographers were not allowed to capture images from the footage today because experts are still reviewing it, Rojas said.

    How does one become a caputre-the-aliens-on-video expert? Is it an academic certification or perhaps a master/apprentice craft? Am I too old to join?

  3. #3 blf
    June 2, 2008

    As Phil Plait’s pointed out at Bad Astronomy:

    [M]embers of the Rocky Mountain Paranormal Society were able to create a fake video in a few hours and for under $100, which looks “slightly more animated” than the real thing. That’s according to someone who saw both, writing for the Rocky Mountain News…
    The fake video is all over YouTube already, and of course some people are claiming it’s the real thing.

    I figure the “real” video is just Pee Zed waving one of his tentacles.

  4. #4 Uncle Dave
    June 2, 2008

    If they are indeed advanced enough to visit this planet from a distant galaxy, they likely have already made an assesement of this planet long ago.
    We are at most a side of the road oddball 50 cent attraction (see the two headed alligator) where aliens stop ocationally while travling to places more significant.

    Billy we are leaving now! Put that dirty human down, you don’t know where its been!

    “Peckman has organized an initiative drive to require the city of Denver to create an Extraterrestrial Affairs Commission to handle alien encounters”

    This is what he election is about right, illegal aliens?

    I am chuckling profusely….

  5. #5 J-Dog
    June 2, 2008

    What about the hat-trick of woo?

    1. Aliens are infecting us with Teh Aids. Oh, and Teh Gays too.
    2. Aliens have suborned earth govs to also start up vaccines, which, of course, as everyone knows, cause autism.
    3. Aliens are also holocaust deniers – Proof: You have never seen them speak out against Nazi atrocities in WWII on The Discovery Channel.

    And when do I pick up my Noble Prize?

  6. #6 Barn Owl
    June 2, 2008

    Why is this particular alien reduced to peeping through a window repeatedly? Couldn’t he just scan the interior of the house.

    Or why, after traveling great distances, would an alien be interested in the contents and inhabitants of a lame-ass house in some lame-ass American suburb?

    Unless, of course, they’re updating the Hitchhiker’s Guide, and wish to confirm that we are still Mostly Harmless.

  7. #7 Lemon Curry
    June 2, 2008

    I figured it out. It’s an alien fooling with a hockey mask.

  8. #8 bwv
    June 2, 2008

    Why is this particular alien reduced to peeping through a window repeatedly? Couldn’t he just scan the interior of the house?

    The alien is peeping through the window because they no soubt have reached the limits of what anal probing can teach them

    (sorry could not resist the impluse to use this great Simpsons line)

  9. #9 Jemmy Button
    June 2, 2008

    Plastic lawn chair.

  10. #10 Ms. Clark
    June 2, 2008

    So who owns the house? Is there a reason why the videographer didn’t go up and knock on the door and ask to speak to the alien? And couldn’t an alien just see through the walls anyway? Why bother going up to the window. And if he’s afraid of being photographed, then why did he let himself (herself) be photographed? Shouldn’t he have shot the photographer with a death-ray or something? And if he’s friendly, why didn’t he go out to have a chat with the photographer?

  11. #11 Craig
    June 2, 2008

    Uncle Dave:
    “Billy we are leaving now! Put that dirty human down, you don’t know where its been!”

    Dude! I fell out of my chair. That is freaking funny!

    Ms. Clark, following Uncle Dave’s line of humor; They couldn’t go knock because the alien would possibly have run. I mean, how is it to know that the photographer wasn’t Illigal Immigration?

  12. #12 bobyu
    June 2, 2008

    Do the commenters here really think that asking questions about why the alien didn’t do this or that will convince anyone that wants to believe this is an alien that it’s not an alien?
    Or does anyone really think the photographer and other scammers will say, “Gee, I guess you got me there, boys, I’ve been making all this stuff up because I guess I’m just nuts.”

  13. #13 cephyn
    June 2, 2008

    How about reading article, some of you?
    “Rojas said the video was taken on July 17, 2003, in Nebraska by Stan Tiger Romanek, who set up the camera because he thought peeping Toms had been looking into his house at his two teenage daughters. Romanek did not appear at the news conference.”

    That explains many of your questions. It was a set-up camera (no cameraman) it was at night (hence the need for infrared and therefore, b&w imagery) because that’s when the suspected peeping tom would peep. If they had the lights on, and a camera right there, the peeping tom wouldn’t be peeping.

    Jesus. That’s a perfectly logical and believable story that addresses the most basic concerns voiced in here.

    Next, you’re trying to analyze the logic of aliens. If they exist, who knows why the do what they do.

    Lastly, does this video convince me of alien life? do i think it’s “real”? From that screenshot – no. Looks ridiculous. It looks like cardboard cutout.

  14. #14 Jonny_eh
    June 2, 2008

    The video and the picture don’t match up, they’re different windows. Something is amiss! Perhaps the ‘leaked’ video isn’t the ‘real’ video?

  15. #15 Eric
    June 2, 2008

    It’s simple. The alien is trying to talk to the telephone, but might’ve forgotten its Earth Book.

    Really, I thought alien sightings were passé. Especially when they all look like the same aliens we’ve come up with in movies, comic books, etc. I think I have a sticker somewhere with that guy’s face on it! What are the odds?

  16. #16 cephyn
    June 2, 2008

    the “leaked” video wasn’t leaked at all. from the very beginning it was released by a group of debunkers who challenged the claim that it would take hollywood-expensive special effects to create a video like this. they spent about $90 and in one night had the “leaked” video. There’s never been any attempt to pass it off as real alien footage, and never an attempt to pass it off as the Denver video.

  17. #17 GDwarf
    June 2, 2008

    I think that that still is from the “genuine” movie.

    Anyways, one thing that struck me, this was supposedly made with an infrared camera, right?

    Well then, [i]why can we see him through a clearly closed window?[/i] As far as I know glass blocks infrared pretty completely.

    Also, how is it we can see reflections of light in the window? Surely an infrared camera couldn’t pick those up.

  18. #18 Jemmy Button
    June 2, 2008

    How about reading article, some of you?

    I read the entire article. You owe me two minutes of my life back.

    who set up the camera because he thought peeping Toms had been looking into his house at his two teenage daughters.

    Then why didn’t he put some @#$%@$% curtains on the window? It would be a lot cheaper than an infrared camera and lighting.

    Romanek, who moved to Colorado after the recording, claims to have had more than 100 encounters with aliens, Rojas said.

    Insane on the membrane.

    Since one encounter in which he photographed a UFO on a road trip to Pennsylvania, 44 birds have mysteriously crashed into his car window because of some bizarre electromagnetic effect resulting from the contact, he writes.

    Electromagnetic – excellent, that means we should be able to measure it.

    Peckman has organized an initiative drive to require the city of Denver to create an Extraterrestrial Affairs Commission to handle alien encounters, saying that the government has not disclosed all it knows about the existence of life beyond Earth.

    Sounds like a waste of government money. It would be much cheaper to put this loon in an asylum.

  19. #19 cephyn
    June 2, 2008

    probably just low-light/nightvision camera then. this was taken in 2003, so i think quite a few home camcorders had low-light capability by then.

  20. #20 cephyn
    June 2, 2008

    I read the entire article. You owe me two minutes of my life back.

    I didn’t force you. I just think if you’re gonna comment/criticize something, might be a good idea to actually read it. Your comments are all valid – because you clearly read the article.

    It really annoys me when a bunch of keyboard jockeys who think they’re so smart start poking holes in something they haven’t even actually looked at. If they were as smart as they thought, they’d have actually researched even the slightest bit.

  21. #21 Koray
    June 2, 2008

    Surely it doesn’t make sense to enumerate reasonable questions that are very hard for the UFO enthusiasts to answer. It’s also mildly interesting that people can demonstrate openly concocted videos as good as alleged ‘evidence’.

    Because it strikes me that what matters is the definition of evidence. For extraordinary claims, photographs or video doesn’t constitute evidence because everybody knows that (at least those who watched the movie Wag the Dog but did not revolt at the idea) you can emply CGI, countless experts, etc. and produce excellent results, but we don’t know exactly what we can *not* concoct. If you’re not a computer scientists, you may find http://scottaaronson.com/blog/?p=152 interesting as background.

    If somebody could tell me that a given video is either genuine or must have taken $500M to fake, I’d still go with fake. After all I don’t know anybody with that amount of money, nor whether anyone would throw that kinda cash for this, but I can see myself leaving a miniscule non-zero probability as option. For stealthy alien visits, I just don’t have a reason to assume non-zero.

    (If the alien ships were hovering over major cities, shooting lasers down and alien leaders were making appearances on CNN about how they’re going to rule the planet, that’d be a lot of evidence for everybody. For momentary appearances that are solely captured on camera, i.e. there is no otherworldly chemical residue left over from landing, etc., I’d need be convinced that we don’t have the time or computational power to concoct such a video…)

  22. #22 Orac
    June 2, 2008

    Do the commenters here really think that asking questions about why the alien didn’t do this or that will convince anyone that wants to believe this is an alien that it’s not an alien?

    No, but it’s fun and it serves a purpose: Illustrating just how ridiculous this set of claims is and that the alleged video most certainly doesn’t constitute compelling evidence for the existence of aliens.

  23. #23 tim gueguen
    June 2, 2008

    If aliens were to land on the White House lawn tomorrow the true believers would almost certainly be upset when they didn’t turn out to be “the Greys.” I wonder how long it would be before someone would try suing alien representatives to Earth for taking part in the coverup of the activities of those guys who did all the abducting and so on.

  24. #24 ildi
    June 2, 2008

    I thought it was a picture of a pit bull peering in the window. My bad!

  25. #25 Barn Owl
    June 2, 2008

    That explains many of your questions. It was a set-up camera (no cameraman) it was at night (hence the need for infrared and therefore, b&w imagery) because that’s when the suspected peeping tom would peep. If they had the lights on, and a camera right there, the peeping tom wouldn’t be peeping.

    Jesus. That’s a perfectly logical and believable story that addresses the most basic concerns voiced in here.

    Oooh, what a coinkydink. The alien peeps in the one window of the one house in which an infrared camera is set up, to catch a peeping tom who could easily be thwarted by, oh, I dunno…curtains??

    I want to believe!

  26. #26 NM
    June 2, 2008

    For those of you who would like a laugh read about the Knox College (University of Otago, New Zealand) great UFO hoax of 1952.

    http://www.skeptics.org.nz/SK:VIEWARTICLE::waDeptTOC.1,A905

    Now, can we get back to talking about some medicine?

  27. #27 CleveDan
    June 2, 2008

    If the alien said “damn you vile women!!!”……i think i might know who it is

  28. #28 Uncle Dave
    June 2, 2008

    “”If it was a puppet, it would be a very elaborate and sophisticated puppet,” said Alejandro Rojas, education director of MUFON, the Mutual UFO Network, who spoke at the press conference.”

    ya mean like Snuffle-uffagus on Sesame Street?
    or big bird? If Big bird starred in my window at night, I would crap saw dust!!!!

    The biggest story here is that the parent just freaked out his child. I would see crap all the time in my window when I was a kid, except this poor kid had a dad that said, “holy crap thats not a shadow, its a alien being!”.

    Now the kid will need therapy for a lifetime because instead of having a dad that said, ” Be quiet and go to sleep, there’s nothing there!” he has got a dad that freaked worse then the child did.

  29. #29 Uncle Dave
    June 2, 2008

    Jemmy Button wrote in response to;
    “How about reading the article, some of you.”

    “I read the entire article. You owe me two minutes of my life back.”

    Now thats funny!!

  30. #30 DLC
    June 2, 2008

    Peeping toms, in a window 8ft above ground ?
    Must be some damn tall teenagers and or aliens.
    While true that I (at 6ft 5in) could reach up and grab the windowsill, am I to assume that the purported alien could do likewise ?
    Elaborate and sophisticated puppet ?
    I have to assume Mr Rojas never watched The Muppet Show.

    Although, I will hold out the possibility that someone was playing a prank on Mr. Romanek, and it got out of hand.

  31. #31 AJ Milnel
    June 2, 2008

    Well, there is another possibility. The aliens are just here to screw with us. Oh, and they love playing peek-a-boo with the humans.

    Well, if I had an FTL drive, that’s sure as hell what I’d do with it. Mess with nervous suburban aliens with teenage daughters. I mean geez–it’s a 30 light year hop, they didn’t even serve peanuts on the flight, and now I’m all jet lagged, what the hell, let’s have a little fun…

  32. #32 Jeph
    June 2, 2008

    That looks a lot more like the upper portion of the Punisher’s logo than an alien being. Too bad the glare makes it hard for me to tell whether the rest of the Punisher is there or not.

  33. #33 Blaidd Drwg
    June 2, 2008

    I suppose it’s possible that there was a trampoline directly under the window, and the alien was using that to get to the required altitude to peek in the window…

    I’ve seen some comments that say – to the effect – since the ‘alien’ was *blinking* it couldn’t have been a fake. Did they never watch Jurassic Park, especially the scene where the T.Rex was looking in the car window, and his pupils constricted when the light hit them? (Perhaps the UFOlogists think JP was a documentary….)

  34. #34 Ms. Clark
    June 2, 2008

    OK, I apologize. I thought the photo was taken from the outside of porch with the metal shelf standing on that porch (I missed the light fixture next to the window). I thought the alien was **inside** the house. So my questions don’t make total sense. Still, can’t the alien just see through the wall? Can’t he see that their’s a camera pointing at him? Maybe he has special hearing and could hear the video camera running? Are the promoters of the film saying that the thing is 9 feet tall or does it levitate itself up to 9 feet high? Is this the living room or the girl’s bedroom? Why does the alien want to see teen girls sleeping? I thought they could easily get into people’s bedrooms. I mean they impregnate women who are at home in their bedrooms, don’t they? Or do they enter women’s bedrooms and then haul the women to their spaceships where they impregnate them? Still, if they know how to get into houses, why would one be peeping from outside? And where are his buddies? Why doesn’t he have a camera to take those scandalous pictures of girls asleep in their beds to share with his friends back at the ship? Does he feel guilty about peeping so he’s not going to tell his friends what he’s doing?

    Is he thinking about consuming the flesh of teenage girls for supper or does he have a more or less prurient intent?

  35. #35 Interrobang
    June 2, 2008

    I’ve actually seen an “unidentified flying object,” in the classic sense of the term — something flying around up there that I couldn’t identify and wasn’t able to ID even with my dad’s help, and he’s a former pilot and crack aircraft identifier.

    That doesn’t for a moment mean I believe in flying saucers and little grey men from outer space; given where I was at the time and what the thing looked like moving around, parsimony would suggest it was some hotshot out rodding around in a high-performance Vector In Flight aircraft…

    Incidentally, in that gallery of ostensible UFO pictures, while I did see a bunch of things I couldn’t ID, I did see what looked to be three hot air balloons, a couple dirigibles, a bunch of cool cloud formations, and a sundog or two.

    For what it’s worth, the only flying saucer I believe in absolutely is this one. (Those aren’t aliens, you dolts, they’re Canadians.)

  36. #36 Nemo
    June 2, 2008

    Do the commenters here really think that asking questions about why the alien didn’t do this or that will convince anyone that wants to believe this is an alien that it’s not an alien?

    Maybe. We won’t know unless we ask.

    While the purported behavior of these “aliens” makes no sense if you regard them as extraterrestrial visitors, it would make perfect sense if they were elves. Might want to point that out to believers…

  37. #37 AndyD
    June 3, 2008

    The peeping tom aliens on Sesame Street were more convincing than this still shot.

    Brrrrrr-ringgg! Brrrrrr-ringggg! Moooo! Moooo! Nope. Nope.

  38. #38 JonMcSkeptic
    June 3, 2008

    Regardless of the technical aspects of creating the hoax alien, if these people claim this is shot in IR it’s automatically bogus. Plate glass is opaque to medium and long wave IR radiation (the range for thermographic cameras), and for the near IR, the transmissivity of glass is well below .5. Unless Romanek installed germanium glass (amazingly expensive) this is what the youngun’s call an epic fail.

  39. #39 angry doc
    June 3, 2008

    It’s not an alien, it’s a ghost.

    I mean, it floats, and it only comes out at night, right?

  40. #40 Pineyman
    June 3, 2008

    You all missed the obvious – the alien is taking a leak. His head keeps popping up cause after umpty-ump light years with a clogged commode he is ecstatic that he can finally go, his superior brain waves are continually overcoming his gravity normalizing boots and the boots keep needing to compensate.

    Jenny Mac is easy? If I bring my issue of Play*** featuring her, oh…never mind.

  41. #41 SteveM
    June 3, 2008

    glass being opaque to IR was demonstrated pretty spectacularly on the Mythbusters when they used a sheet of glass to hide a thief behind to trick an IR motion sensor.

  42. #42 phantomreader42
    June 3, 2008

    UncleDave:

    Now the kid will need therapy for a lifetime because instead of having a dad that said, ” Be quiet and go to sleep, there’s nothing there!” he has got a dad that freaked worse then the child did.

    angry doc:

    It’s not an alien, it’s a ghost.

    I mean, it floats, and it only comes out at night, right?

    I’m reminded of a Far Side cartoon. “Now go to sleep, or once again I’ll have to knock three times and summon the Floating Head Of Death.”

    That one was a guy on the lower floor with a painted balloon on a string out the window.

  43. #43 funny about Money
    June 3, 2008

    Alien? Looks like a dog to me. Looks just like my dog, peering in the window.

  44. #44 ChrisC
    June 4, 2008

    “It really annoys me when a bunch of keyboard jockeys who think they’re so smart start poking holes in something they haven’t even actually looked at…”

    Dear god, can’t you let us mock the stupid thing without getting all serious? Lighten up and laugh at the kooky puppet!

  45. #45 mdhatter
    June 6, 2008

    chuckle, yawn.

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