If it weren’t for movies, none of this crap would exist. 

— Chuck Nice


What happened to “one of the most esteemed news magazines on American television,” per the New York Times? Two weeks ago, the CBS flagship show 60 Minutes broadcast a 14-minute segment on UFOs, when Bill Whitaker interviewed, for starters, Luis Elizondo, a familiar face to anyone following the UFO saga within (and without) government ever since he popped up as an expert on the History Channel four years ago. Supposedly, Elizondo directed AATIP, the government secret Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program while it was operational. (Except he probably didn’t – “Mr. Elizondo had no responsibilities with regard to the AATIP program,” according to Pentagon spokesperson Christopher Sherwood.)

For that matter, AATIP was a boondoggle from the start. It was instigated in 2008 by UFO/paranormal enthusiast Robert Bigelow via Harry Reid, then Senate Majority Leader (Bigelow was a contributor to Reid’s 2008 campaign.) Your tax dollars paid for this nutty $22 million operation.

With all the times the media has been fooled into thinking ETs are in the sky over our heads, coming down occasionally to stick probes in our various orifices (not to mention lizard-men posing as politicians and generals), wouldn’t you think the producers of a program with a reputation to uphold would have done their homework? 60 Minutes has the resources of several roomfuls of fact-checkers, editors and professional newshounds. It took me, with virtually no background in this, using an ancient Dell PC, just an hour or so to find prosaic, non-alien rationales for all their Amazing Stories. Couldn’t they have shown just a little curiosity faced with such far-fetched tales? Or at the very least had a skeptic — there are many — on the program to counter the easily debunked claims of the show’s “experts”? I guess it’s all about ratings.

The big reveal of the program was the showing of four brief, fuzzy videos of UFOs that have been available for years (one for over a decade) on YouTube. These have been analyzed to death by folks who understand night vision cameras, gimbal camera mounts, bokeh (blur produced by out-of-focus objects) and other imaging artifacts. And, um, trigonometry. Here’s debunker Mick West on one of these UFOs:

First, we see “Go Fast”, a video presented as showing an incredibly fast craft skimming low over the ocean. But if you do the very simple trigonometry invited by the numbers on screen, it turns out to be something far above the surface and moving at a speed that matches the wind at that altitude, making it almost certainly just a balloon. Yet the 60 Minutes host, the highly respected journalist Bill Whitaker, repeats Elizondo’s baseless claim that it’s “fast moving.”

Then we have the green flashing “pyramid,” the latest of these “oh, not again!” Whack-a-Mole® videos. This one was filmed from a USN ship with a night vision camera, and shows (almost certainly) out-of-focus navigation lights of commercial airplane. (The ship, USS Russell, was directly under the flight path of planes flying into LAX from Hawaii.) Turns out, many night-vision devices have triangular irises (to control the amount of light let into the camera) that give rise to classic bokeh effects. Check this:

(via Mick West, used with permission)

“Jesse,” who is “Jesse 3959,” follows Mick West’s Metabunk channel and owns a night vision monocular with a triangular iris. It was, apparently, easy for him to mimic the “pyramid” shown in that startling (!) 60 Minutes video.

The triangular iris inside Jesse 3959’s night vision monocular. (Used with permission)

You can see the details here or read about it here (while wondering where that $22 million actually went).

I could go on endlessly — people have been seeing UFOs regularly since the 1946 flying saucer scare, and ETs have been around for much longer. Back in 1877, Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli (uncle of Elsa) reported seeing a network of “canali” on the surface of Mars — meaning “channels,” but picked up by the U.S. and British press as “canals.” Hence H.G. Wells War of the Worlds, 20 years later. (The idea that a dying Martian civilization was bringing water from the poles to the equator wasn’t fully debunked until the Mariner 4 mission in 1964.)

In 1967, astronomer Jocelyn Burnell jokingly wrote “LGM” on a printout from a radio telescope showing a regular one-second extraterrestrial blip; little green men were trying to contact us! She had, in fact, discovered “pulsars,” i.e. rotating neutron stars. (For which her advisor got a Nobel Prize!) And just six years ago, “Tabby’s Star” (for astronomer Tabitha Boyajian) made headlines—its light curve was suggestive of a “Dyson sphere,” a putative enclosure around a star that powers an advanced ET civilization. That’s before more mundane alternatives were proposed.

Or, most recently, Oumuamua (“Messenger from Afar” in Hawaiian), the oddly-shaped body that passed through our solar system in 2017. Because of its weird acceleration, Harvard physicist Avi Loeb claims it’s evidence of an extraterrestrial civilization. Actually, it’s probably a chunk of frozen nitrogen split off from a nitrogen planet in another solar system. Bet that explanation doesn’t make the headlines, the way Loeb’s claim did.

C’mon guys. Who hasn’t seen a UFO? I certainly don’t know any amateur astronomer and/or pilot (like myself) who hasn’t wondered about some oddball object. Probably a drone, weather balloon, airplane, Venus, marsh gas, fly on the camera lens, lenticular cloud, “earthquake light”, stealth bomber, meteor…but, big but—“unidentified” is just that. It’s a big jump from “unidentified” to “alien.” As Neil deGrasse Tyson puts it, “The fact that you don’t know what it is not evidence that you know what it is.”

Meanwhile, with half the world’s population now able to livestream high-resolution videos on their smart phones, someone will finally get a non-fuzzy, non-shopped, real-time image of something actually worthy of investigation.

I’m not waiting up nights.