Tuesday, June 19, 2007

PART NINE -- On The Road To Roswell 2007: A Discussion With Dr. Mike Heiser

iconEditors note: This is the ninth in a special series of Raiders News Network interviews focusing on the 60th Anniversary of the 1947 Roswell, New Mexico UFO Incident. Tom Horn is joined by Dr. Mike Heiser, Ph.D. in Hebrew Bible and Semitic Languages from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Before attending the UW-Madison, Mike earned an M.A. in Ancient History from the University of Pennsylvania (major fields: Ancient Israel and Egyptology). Mike's other academic interests include paranormal and occult religions and western esotericism. He is particularly interested in how these worldviews and traditions have historically drawn on biblical and ancient Near Eastern material and in turn influenced biblical interpretation on the popular level. He has become well known through numerous radio appearances for his critiques of "parababble" and inside-the-box religious thinking. He is best known to popular audiences for his paranormal thriller, The Facade, which intertwines many of his interests.

HORN: Dr. Heiser, thank you for doing this interview and for providing us with this exclusive peek at first time ever, state-of-the-art scientific linguistic testing that has been applied to controversial UFO documentary evidence. I believe what you have done and the forensic evidence you will be presenting at Roswell is indisputably of historic value. Before we get to that, please tell us how you got involved in UFO research?
HEISER: I've always been interested in UFOs, even as a kid. I only became seriously involved--doing real research--in 1997, shortly after listening to the USAF's third attempt to explain the Roswell incident. Colonel Haines, the AF representative, gave frankly ridiculous answers to some very obvious questions, which made me think that the AF really wanted to perpetuate belief in the alien explanation of Roswell--and I wondered why.
HORN: Why are you still involved in UFO research as an academic?
HEISER: I do it for a couple of reasons. One, I'm a believer that scholars should serve the public interest. Too many scholars ignore this subject and the people whose worldview revolves around it. They claim they're too busy or it's not important. I can't think of anything much more potentially paradigm-shifting than the question of whether there is extraterrestrial life. The question takes you into religion, politics, physics, metaphysics, etc. Second, I want to minister to those whose experience has caused them to feel abandoned by their church or synagogue because their spiritual leadership isn't intellectually equipped to help them, or fears real interaction with the supernatural. Third, I want to correct error-riddled teachings on the part of researchers whose attitude isn't antagonistic, but whose work is seriously flawed. I don't think it's right, given my training, to just let people be deceived. I also think I need to stand up and call the bluff of people who rape the biblical text (and other texts) in an effort to prop up an anti-God, anti-theistic worldview. Lastly, if there is an ET reality that can be divorced from demonic entities and that reality has intersected with our own, the public has a right to know about it (at least at the "yes" or "no" level) and the Church needs to understand how its theology can accommodate it (since it's spent so much time laughing at it or ignoring it). .
HORN: What led you to write The Façade?
HEISER: I was kind of burned out after my doctoral exams and wanted to take some time off. I'd always wanted to write a novel, and I thought I could use fiction to put out some items in biblical theology and religious studies that intersected (or were thought to intersect) with questions related to ET life and the UFO phenomenon. I gave it a whack and the rest is history. I went back to my dissertation, which I finished and earned my Ph.D. in 2004. The Façade has actually been out of print for about a year, but it will be re-issued at the end of this month.
HORN: What is The Façade about, and what were your goals with the book? What makes The Façade different in your mind, from similar novels?
HEISER: The Façade is a supernatural thriller whose plot revolves around two questions: (1) If there was a genuine disclosure of an intelligent extraterrestrial reality, could the traditional Judeo-Christian worldview survive? (2) What if the extraterrestrial presence was actually a physical manifestation of a sinister, supernatural presence? People need to realize going in that, while The Façade is very readable, it isn't lightweight fiction. I sort of used Michael Crichton as my model--compelling story but a plotline driven by heady material. The treatment of the theological issues is neither simplistic, nor predictable. My goal was not to say anything in the book that couldn't stand up under academic scrutiny, although the application of the data is fictional. That's why there's a notification in the book that all the government documents, ancient texts, technologies, etc. are real. My goal was to have all the data points be real, but their connection and the book's characters are fictional. The Façade has a 4.5 stars rating on Amazon in 50 reviews, so I must be doing something right.
HORN: You often lecture on whether Christianity could handle an ET reality—one of the themes of The Façade. What's your answer to that? Why do you think so many Christians fearful of an ET reality?
HEISER: I'm doing that presentation in Roswell in fact. First, my definition of a real alien is a created, biological life form that lives somewhere else than earth, which has to eat, drink, reproduce to maintain its species, etc., and is subject to the physical laws of creation. The short answer is that there is no theological problem per se with an ET reality. Many lay people think it's a problem because they have a pretty naive view of the Bible--for example, if something isn't in the Bible it can't be real. Once you point out that things like the known planets of our solar system and things like microwaves aren't in the Bible, they see that position is pretty silly. Others worry about a real alien because they think it means that evolution would be proven true. Gary Bates from Answers in Genesis takes that view in his book, which I've reviewed on my website, for those interested. While many secular people make an ET-evolution connection, it isn't a logically necessary connection. What I do in the lecture is go through objections like these and unpack them for their flawed assumptions, then go on to positively explain why it is that a real alien would not harm biblical theology. That said, if what people think of today as aliens are demonic (and non-Christian researchers like Jacques Vallee and John Keel have made a good case for that), then we have a problem--but it's not an alien problem.
HORN: The Façade also gets into the Roswell event. What do you think happened at Roswell ?
HEISER: I think Roswell was basically an Operation: PAPERCLIP screw up--that what crashed was a craft that grew out of the US efforts to capitalize on the expertise of PAPERCLIP scientists--many of them Nazi party members. The documentary evidence for my view is incomplete and circumstantial, but so is every other view. I think it has more coherence than other views since the evidence is there for a PAPERCLIP-UFO/Roswell overlap, at least to some degree. Nick Redfern's recent book makes the same sort of case, although he includes the Japanese side of PAPERCLIP in presenting his case.
HORN: What about references in certain government documents to recovered bodies?
HEISER: The view I take in The Façade was that the bodies were probably human--perhaps mongoloid children. Anyone who looks at the Kaufman drawings of the bodies will note how human they look--having anatomical elements (like ears and noses) that the grays do not. I put that view into the book because it was given to me by a friend who had a friend who worked at Los Alamos. I had no direct evidence for it. When Nick Redfern came out with his book a year or so ago, he'd found the evidence for that viewpoint, and done a nice job at that. Everyone interested in Roswell should read Nick's book, Body Snatchers in the Desert: The Horrible Truth at the Heart of the Roswell Story. The book didn't make him many friends in the UFO community, but it's a good read. I have a review of it on my website.
HORN: Do you think that all UFO reports concern man-made UFOs?
HEISER: No. I think some defy such explanations, like objects that explode and then re-assemble in air. Those might be truly extraterrestrial--but I'd want real proof for that. Just because something appears to defy the laws of physics doesn't mean the right explanation is extraterrestrial, though it could be. However, there might be some part of physics as yet poorly understood that could explain them, or some sort of intelligence from another plane of reality--what we might call the "spiritual realm" might be behind such things. We just don't know.
HORN: How would you characterize ufology as a whole—what kind of people get involved in the subject and what are their motivations?
HEISER: I've found there are basically five kinds of people involved in UFO research and the UFO community at large: (1) the nuts and bolts scientists - they are dealing with questions of interstellar travel, the possibility of ET life, and propulsion issues. The religious dimensions of the issue are barely on their radar. They typically have already dismissed God because of their faith in evolution (and their failure to discern the philosophical incoherence of an uncreated or self-created universe). A good number in this category are also politically active for the cause, but should not be confused with # 5 below. (2) The UFO or abduction experiencer who wants to keep their Judeo-Christian faith but is struggling with that. These are the people who have some experience and have tried in vain to get help from their pastor or other Christian friends to process the experience, to fit it into their faith worldview. They may or may not leave the organized church, but they surely are left on their own to deal with the experience. They rely on alternative sources of information and fellow experiencers to make spiritual sense out of it. They are vulnerable to nonsense like that of Zecharia Sitchin since some see it as the only way to make sense of things from their Bible. They are also vulnerable to redefining their faith in Gnostic terms. (3) The UFO or abduction experiencer who rejects the faith afterward, and who becomes antagonistic toward the faith. These people often operate out of anger toward the Church and may become openly hostile toward it. (4) The people who see the UFO / ET issue as the platform they've wanted for years to vent their hatred toward Christianity and make money while doing it. These are the self-styled pseudo-scholars in the movement (usually with respect to ancient texts that they can't actually translate). This crowd treats those of the Judeo-Christian faith with contempt and ridicule. These are the people whose bluff needs to be publicly called. (NOTE: I don't put Sitchin in this category since he doesn't seem overtly hostile to Christianity or traditional Judaism). (5) The "New Agers" who want to use the UFO issue for a religion, for left-wing political purposes, or to become avatars in their own time and mind. They see ET as their saviors in just about every way.
HORN: Do you think that there are intelligent aliens and that these beings have visited earth?
HEISER: Right now, no. I don't think we have unrefutable (or even good) evidence for that. Someday we might, and it wouldn't bother me, given a disconnect with the demonic world. I think what we think of as the spiritual realm and our earthly realm can both co-exist with an "alien realm"--somewhere off our planet.
HORN: You've become somewhat notorious for your criticisms of Zecharia Sitchin and his ancient astronaut theories—where does Sitchin go wrong?
HEISER: Basically, it's hard to find something he gets right with respect to biblical and ancient languages. People get upset with me for saying that I am what Sitchin pretends to be--a scholar of biblical and ancient Near Eastern languages. For people new to me, my resume is publicly available to prove my point--whereas it's next to impossible to find any proof for Sitchin's claimed expertise. I've actually never been able to find a single piece of evidence he has ever studied any of the ancient languages. He's Jewish, so I'm guessing he can read Hebrew, though that's not a given today. But even if he can read the Hebrew text, it proves nothing--and really leads one to question how he makes such basic blunders in interpreting the biblical material. What I mean here is that, while hundreds of millions of people can read English, that doesn't mean those people can analyze an English text, biblical or otherwise. How many people do we know who could diagram and English sentence or accurately discuss the grammar of a given sentence? That is what is required for biblical exegesis. Any Israeli ten-year old can read the Hebrew Bible with relative ease, but can they understand and interpret it with any accuracy at all?
HORN: Can you give examples?
HEISER: Sitchin messes up on interpreting the biblical word elohim, the plurals in , he confuses the sons of God and the nephilim, and his translations of nephilim as "people of the fiery rockets" is ridiculous. I could go on and on, really. What I tell people who take his word as gospel truth is that it would be easy to make me go away and recant. All they need to do is bring forth ONE line of ONE cuneiform text that says what Sitchin says--find me any evidence in the tablets, translated by experts (not Sitchin, who doesn't know these languages) that says Nibiru is a planet beyond Pluto, that says the Anunnaki live on that planet (or that says the Anunnaki were from ANY planet), that says the Anunnaki built spaceships, or that has Nibiru coming through our solar system every 3600 years. The simple fact is that he can't, so I'm still here. This is why, six years ago when Art Bell asked if I'd debate Sitchin on Coast to Coast AM, I said yes on the air, and Sitchin has said nothing. For your readers who want to know the truth about what Sitchin says, they can go to my website devoted to analyzing his claims. In the course of analyzing Sitchin's work, readers can also find out what "nibiru" really does refer to in the cuneiform texts, and what's up with the cylinder seal Sitchin refers to as proof the Sumerians knew of a 12th planet (the Sumerians counted the sun and moon as planets). The files were written before I finished my Ph.D., so they're old--but have never been refuted by Sitchin or his disciples. All they need to do is bring forth data that exist that supports Sitchin. Sounds easy--but isn't, since the data don't exist.
HORN: You have been working on something that's been a secret until now, the full research of which will be discussed in your presentation at Roswell this year.
HEISER: That's true. Last year I decided to do something I've been thinking about since 2005--having the Majestic documents tested by a professional linguist who specializes in computational linguistics applied to document authentication or "authorship attribution." I found a specialist willing to do the testing a few months ago and she just completed the round of testing I asked for--the procedures I could afford.
HORN: What's the difference between what you've had done to the Majestic documents and research others have done on those documents?
HEISER: The Majestic documents have undergone forensic testing of the type that isn't linguistic in its nature. Dr. Robert Wood and his son Ryan, along with Stanton Friedman, have put a lot of work into such testing. But the kind of testing they did addresses things like physical dating of the ink, pencil and paper; dating the document by matching the typography of the typewriter, printer, copy machine, or mimeographic machine from which the document came; dating any watermarks on the paper and the chemical composition of paper; comparing known styles for government memoranda and correspondence with the styles of the documents--that sort of thing. They have supposedly analyzed handwriting styles, but that doesn't do much good, since practically all the documents are not hand-written. The only handwriting they really tested were things like comparing signatures on the Majestic documents with signatures of the same person on documents that aren't controversial.
HORN: Don't the Woods and Stanton Friedman say that linguistic testing was done on the Majestic documents?
HEISER: They do, but there's absolutely no evidence for it. I haven't been able to find any report, for instance, on the Woods' Majestic documents website on such testing. Frankly, when the Woods talk about linguistic testing what they're referring to is either the handwriting analysis noted before, or Stanton Friedman's reminiscence. What I mean by that is that only Stanton Friedman made any attempt to have the Majestic documents tested linguistically and, as his description makes clear, no modern forensic computational linguistic work was actually done:
"At the suggestion of attorney Bob Bletchman, I had obtained 27 examples of Hillenkoetter's various writings from the Truman Library. Dr. Wescott reviewed these and the EBD [Eisenhower Briefing Document] and stated in an April 7, 1988, letter to Bob . . . ‘In my opinion there is no compelling reason to regard any of these communications as fraudulent or to believe that any of them were written by anyone other than Hillenkoetter himself. This statement holds for the controversial presidential briefing memorandum of November 18, 1952, as well as for the letters, both official and personal.’"[1]
The above account contains no information on what Dr. Wescott (now deceased) did with the documents given to him. Several considerations suggest that Dr. Wescott likely did little more than look at the documents, rather than conducting actual tests. First, the development of the field of computational linguistics and the use of computers for natural language processing of necessity followed the development of computers and processing power. In 1988 these research methods were known, but not widely available. Second, Dr. Wescott’s areas of expertise included neither authorship attribution research or computer forensic linguistics. Rather, the focus of Dr. Wescott’s work was anthropological linguistics.[2] Despite his distinguished academic year, a search of linguistics databases produces no evidence that Dr. Wescott ever did any work in these areas. This is no doubt because his teaching career ended at roughly the time these fields were beginning to blossom.
These observations are significant, since having a Ph.D. does not guarantee that one has any knowledge of any given subfield within one’s discipline. Usually, at the doctoral level your expertise is limited to one area within your field, and works its way out into your dissertation. For example, what would a podiatrist know about heart surgery? A cardiologist about neuro-medicine? A defense attorney about patent law? A microbiologist about frogs? The answer to all those would be "very little"—enough to perhaps converse with other non-specialists, but not nearly enough to be considered competent by specialists. The point is that a doctoral degree in linguistics hardly guarantees any sort of expertise in a specific sub-discipline of linguistics, especially one that dovetailed with computer science. Dr. Wescott got his Ph.D. in 1948. Perhaps he'd used a computer by 1988, but even that isn't a given. His academic record gives no indication that he was either proficient in the use of computers or involved in applying computers to language processing and authorship attribution. Consequently, he would be disqualified from having anything meaningful to contribute to any discussion of computational methods of authorship attribution.
It should also be noted that Dr. Wescott’s assessment of his "analysis" lacks conviction. At best his amateur opinion in this sub-discipline of linguistics offers the conclusion that he had no basis to draw an actual conclusion. As UFO researcher Paul Kimball points out, Wescott himself made it clear that he had given no conclusive answer or endorsement to authenticity of the Majestic documents. In a letter to the International UFO Reporter, Wescott wrote: “I have no strong conviction favoring either rather polarized position in the matter . . . I wrote that I thought its [the Eisenhower Briefing document] fraudulence [was] unproved . . . I could equally well have maintained that its authenticity is unproved . . . inconclusiveness seems to me to be of its essence.”[3]
This is all that is offered in terms of linguistic testing by the Woods or Friedman. The thoroughness and care with which Friedman and the Woods have addressed other forensic issues is sorely lacking with respect to modern methods of linguistic analysis, specifically designed to determine (or rule out the possibility) of authorship of documents. The absence of demonstrable testing data in any form of publication puts the burden of proof on these and other researchers to prove they have indeed subjected the Majestic documents to linguistic analysis. That's why what I've had done is important and can be a significant contribution to ufology.
HORN: How do linguists test documents for authorship identification?
HEISER: This question is answered in some detail in the preliminary report on the tests I had conducted on the Majestic documents that will be available later this month. To summarize here, the linguist who did the testing used a computational method she pioneered, beginning with her own doctoral work in linguistics, and continuing into her professional career. Broadly speaking, her method is stylometry, which is quantitative and computational method that analyzes a range of language features-- e.g. word length, phrase length, sentence length, vocabulary frequency, distribution of words of different lengths, function word frequency, and even punctuation patterns. One more thing--it's important that people understand that these methods only work when a document has a specific named author on it. Documents that have no author named were not tested and could not be in the same way. There are tests that can target documents that bear no name--such as stylometric computational comparisons with forgeries to see if the "no author name" document was written by the same forger--but those methods are expensive. Hopefully as people purchase the first report, I can raise the necessary funds to continue the testing in ways like this.
HORN: Who did the document testing and what are his/her credentials?
HEISER: Dr. Carol Chaski did the testing. Dr. Chaski is the founder of The Institute for Linguistic Evidence (ILE), a research organization that validates reliable document authentication techniques and provides assistance to investigators and attorneys in criminal and civil trials whenever the authorship of any document is questioned or suspicious. Dr. Chaski and her ILE associates are the only forensic linguists in the United States who have won government funding for forensic-linguistic research. Dr. Chaski has pioneered her own computational document authentication software, ALIAS, and is the president of ALIAS Technology, LLC. She is a member of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (Engineering Sciences Section), the Linguistic Society of America, The Association of Computing Machinery, the International Association of Forensic Linguistics and the Law and Society Association. She regularly presents her research at national and international conferences and publishes in academic peer reviewed journals and books. Dr. Chaski earned her Ph.D. in linguistics from Brown University.
HORN: I know that the results of your research are going to be unveiled at the Roswell festival, but can you say anything at this point about results?
HEISER: All I can really say right now is that the results aren't a clean sweep for either side. Some of the Majestic documents are authentic, in that they really were authored by the person whose name they bear. Others could not have been written by the person whose name they bear, and so they are best judged as forgeries.
HORN: Again, without revealing too much, what are the implications of this testing for UFO research and the Majestic documents?
HEISER: Dr. Chaski's work in authorship attribution has held up in numerous court cases, and has been thoroughly peer-reviewed. Her CV has specific examples in this regard. That said, if her tests say a document is written by the person whose name it bears, there's better than a 90% chance it was. Same with the opposite. Those documents that her tests say were not authored by the person named on the document ought to be considered forgeries and should not be used as evidence in any discussion of the UFO phenomenon.
HORN: Well, Mike, anybody with a sincere interest in the study of UFOlogy is going to be glued to your presentation at Roswell. To know with statistical probability which of the Majestic documents are authentic, and the ones that are not will not only be historic, but will help researchers follow the correct rabbit hole to greater future discovery. My workshop is just before your keynote lecture and we will be dismissing it a few minutes early so that people can get next door and be part of this amazing disclosure. I'm sure it will be THE buzz for some time to come. Thank you for taking time to do this interview.

[3] International UFO Reporter, vol. 13, no. 4, July / August 1988, p. 19. Cited by Paul Kimball, “MJ-12 – The Wescott ‘Analysis’ Red Herring,” The Other Side of the Truth, July 14, 2005, accessed at http://redstarfilms.blogspot.com/2005_07_01_archive.html on June 6, 2007.

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