Skeptic Tank Text Archive File

Master Index Current Directory Index Go to SkepticTank Go to Human Rights activist Keith Henson Go to Scientology cult

Skeptic Tank!

By: David Bloomberg Re: Alien Autopsy Hoax 1/2 'Alien Autopsy' hoax.(Investigative Files) Joe Nickell 11/21/95 Skeptical Inquirer It keeps going and going and. . . . The Roswell crashed-saucer myth has been given renewed impetus by a controversial television program "Alien Autopsy: Fact or Fiction?" that purports to depict the autopsy of a flying saucer occupant. The "documentary," promoted by a British marketing agency that formerly handled Walt Disney products, was aired August 28, and September 4, 1995, on the Fox television network. Skeptics, as well as many UFOlogists, quickly branded the film used in the program a hoax. "The Roswell Incident," as it is known, is described in several controversial books, including one of that title by Charles Berlitz and William L. Moore. Reportedly, in early July 1947, a flying saucer crashed on the ranch property of William Brazel near Roswell, New Mexico, and was subsequently retrieved by the United States government (Berlitz and Moore 1980). Over the years, numerous rumors, urban legends, and outright hoaxes have claimed that saucer wreckage and the remains of its humanoid occupants were stored at a secret facility - e.g., a (nonexistent) "Hangar 18" at Wright Patterson Air Force Base - and that the small corpses were autopsied at that or another site (Berlitz and Moore 1980; Stringfield 1977). [See the SI Special Report on Roswell by Philip J. Klass in this issue.] UFO hoaxes, both directly and indirectly related to Roswell, have since proliferated. For example, a 1949 science fiction movie, The Flying Saucer, produced by Mikel Conrad, purported to contain scenes of a captured spacecraft; an actor hired by Conrad actually posed as an FBI agent and swore the claim was true. In 1950, writer Frank Scully reported in his book Behind the Flying Saucers that the United States government had in its possession no fewer than three Venusian spaceships, together with the bodies of their humanoid occupants. Scully, who was also a Variety magazine columnist, was fed the story by two confidence men who had hoped to sell a petroleum-locating device allegedly based on alien technology. Other crash-retrieval stories followed, as did various photographs of space aliens living and dead: One gruesome photo portrayed the pilot of a small plane, his aviator's glasses still visible in the picture (Clark 1993). Among recent Roswell hoaxes was the MJ-12 fiasco, in which supposed top secret government documents - including an alleged briefing paper for President Eisenhower and an executive order from President Truman - corroborated the Roswell crash. Unfortunately, document experts readily exposed the papers as inept forgeries (Nickell and Fischer 1990). Sooner or later, a Roswell "alien autopsy" film was bound to turn up. That predictability, together with a lack of established historical record for the bizarre film, is indicative of a hoax. So is the anonymity of the cameraman. But the strongest argument against authenticity stems from what really crashed at Roswell in 1947. According to recently released Air Force files, the wreckage actually came from a balloon-borne array of radar reflectors and monitoring equipment launched as part of the secret Project Mogul and intended to monitor acoustic emissions from anticipated Soviet nuclear tests. In fact, materials from the device match contemporary descriptions of the debris (foiled paper, sticks, and tape) given by rancher Brazel's children and others (Berlitz and Moore 1980; Thomas 1995). Interestingly, the film failed to agree with earlier purported eyewitness testimony about the alleged autopsy. For example, multiple medical informants described the Roswell creatures as lacking ears and having only four fingers with no thumb (Berlitz and Moore 1980), whereas the autopsy film depicts a creature with small ears and five fingers in addition to a thumb. Ergo, either the previous informants are hoaxers, or the film is a hoax, or both. Although the film was supposedly authenticated by Kodak, only the leader tape and a single frame were submitted for examination, not the entire footage. In fact, a Kodak spokesman told the Sunday Times of London: "There is no way I could authenticate this. I saw an image on the print. Sure it could be old film, but it doesn't mean it is what the aliens were filmed on." Various objections to the film's authenticity came from journalists, UFO researchers, and scientists who viewed the film. They noted that it bore a bogus, non-military codemark ("Restricted access, AO1 classification") that disappeared after it was criticized; that the anonymous photographer's alleged military status had not been verified; and that the injuries sustained by the extraterrestrial were inconsistent with an air crash. On the basis of such objections, an article in the Sunday Times of London advised: "RELAX. The little green men have not landed. A much-hyped film purporting to prove that aliens had arrived on earth is a hoax" (Chittenden 1995). Similar opinions on the film came even from prominent Roswell-crash partisans: Kent Jeffrey, an associate of the Center for UFO Studies and author of the "Roswell Declaration" (a call for an executive order to declassify any United States government information on UFOs and alien intelligence) stated "up front and unequivocally there is no (zero!!!) doubt in my mind that this film is a fraud" (1995). Even arch Roswell promoter Stanton T. Friedman said: "I saw nothing to indicate the footage came from the Roswell incident, or any other UFO incident for that matter" ("Alien or Fake?" 1995). Still other critics found many inconsistencies and suspicious elements in the alleged autopsy. For example, in one scene the "doctors" wore white, hooded anti-contamination suits that could have been neither for protection from radiation (elsewhere the personnel are examining an alien body without such suits), nor for protection from the odor of decay nor from unknown bacteria or viruses (either would have required some type of breathing apparatus). Thus it appears that the outfits served no purpose except to conceal the "doctors'" identities. American pathologists offered still more negative observations. Cyril Wecht, former president of the National Association of Forensic Pathologists, seemed credulous but described the viscera in terms that might apply to supermarket meat scraps and sponges: "I cannot relate these structures to abdominal contexts." Again, he said about contents of the cranial area being removed: "This is a structure that must be the brain, if it is a human being. It looks like no brain that I have ever seen, whether it is a brain filled with a tumor, a brain that has been radiated, a brain that has been traumatized and is hemorragic. . . ." (Wecht 1995). Much more critical was the assessment of nationally known pathologist Dominick Demaio who described the autopsy on television's "American Journal" (1995): "I would say it's a lot of bull." Houston pathologist Ed Uthman (1995) was also bothered by the unrealistic viscera, stating: "The most implausible thing of all is that the 'alien' just had amorphous lumps of tissue in 'her' body cavities. I cannot fathom that an alien who had external organs so much like ours could not have some sort of definitive structural organs internally." As well, "the prosectors did not make an attempt to arrange the organs for demonstration for the camera." Uthman also observed that there was no body block, a basic piece of equipment used to prop up the trunk for examination and the head for brain removal. He also pointed out that "the prosector used scissors like a tailor, not like a pathologist or surgeon" (pathologists and surgeons place the middle or ring finger in the bottom scissors hole and use the forefinger to steady the scissors near the blades). Uthman further noted that "the initial cuts in the skin were made a little too Hollywood-like, too gingerly, like operating on a living patient" whereas autopsy incisions are made faster and deeper. Uthman faulted the film for lacking what he aptly termed "technical verisimilitude." The degree of realism in the film has been debated, even by those who believe the film is a hoax. Some, like Kent Jeffrey (1995), thought the autopsy was done on a specially altered human corpse. On the other hand, many - including movie special effects experts - believed a dummy had been used. One suspicious point in that regard was that significant close-up views of the creature's internal organs were consistently out of focus ("Alien or Fake?" 1995). "American Journal" (1995) also featured a special effects expert who doubted the film's authenticity and demonstrated how the autopsy "incisions" - which left a line of "blood" as the scalpel was drawn across the alien's skin - could easily have been faked. (The secret went unexplained but probably consisted of a tube fastened to the far side of the blade.) In contrast to the somewhat credulous response of a Hollywood pecial effects filmmaker on the Fox program, British expert Cliff Wallace of Creature Effects provided the following assessment: None of us were of the opinion that we were watching a real alien autopsy, or an autopsy on a mutated human which has also been suggested. We all agreed that what we were seeing was a very good fake body, a large proportion of which had been based on a lifecast. Although the nature of the film obscured many of the things we had hoped to see, we felt that the general posture and weighting of the corpse was incorrect for a body in a prone position and had more in common with a cast that had been taken in an upright position. We did notice evidence of a possible molding seam line down an arm in one segment of the film but were generally surprised that there was little other evidence of seaming which suggests a high degree of workmanship. We felt that the filming was done in such a way as to obscure details rather than highlight them and that many of the parts of the autopsy that would have been difficult to fake, for example the folding back of the chest flaps, were avoided, as was anything but the most cursory of limb movement. We were also pretty unconvinced by the lone removal sequence. In our opinion the insides of the creature did not bear much relation to the exterior where muscle and bone shapes can be easily discerned. We all agreed that the filming of the sequence would require either the use of two separate bodies, one with chest open, one with chest closed, or significant redressing of one mortal. Either way the processes involved are fairly complicated and require a high level of specialized knowledge. Another expert, Trey Stokes - a Hollywood special effects "motion designer" whose film credits include The Abyss, The Blob, Robocop Two, Batman Returns, Gremlins II, Tales from the Crypt, and many others - provided an independent analysis at CSICOP's request. Interestingly, Stokes's critique also indicated that the alien figure was a dummy cast in an upright position. He further noted that it seemed lightweight and "rubbery," that it therefore moved unnaturally when handled, especially in one shot in which "the shoulder and upper arm actually are floating rigidly above the table surface, rather than sagging back against it" as would be expected (Stokes 1995). CSICOP staffers (Executive Director Barry Karr, SKEPTICAL INQUIRER Assistant Editor Tom Genoni, Jr., and I) monitored developments in the case. Before the film aired, CSICOP issued a press release, briefly summarizing the evidence against authenticity and quoting CSICOP Chairman Paul Kurtz as stating: "The Roswell myth should be permitted to die a deserved death. Whether or not we are alone in the universe will have to be decided on the basis of better evidence than that provided by the latest bit of Roswell fakery. Television executives have a responsibility not to confuse programs designed for entertainment with news documentaries." References Alien or fake? 1995. Sheffield Star (England), August 18. "American Journal," 1995. September 6. Berlitz, Charles, and William L. Moore. 1980. The Roswell Incident. New York: Grosset and Dunlap. Chittenden, Maurice. 1995. Film that 'proves' aliens visited Earth is a hoax, the Sunday Times of London, July 30. Clark, Jerome. 1993. "UFO Hoaxes." In Encyclopedia of Hoaxes, ed. by Gordon Stein, pp. 267-278. Detroit: Gale Research. Jeffrey, Kent. 1995. Bulletin 2: The purported 1947 Roswell film, Internet, May 26. Kurtz, Paul. 1995. Quoted in CSICOP press release, "Alien Autopsy: Fact or Fiction?" film a hoax concludes scientific organization. April 25. Nickell, Joe, and John E Fischer. 1990. The crashed-saucer forgeries, International UFO Reporter, March/April 1990, pp. 4-12. Stokes, Trey. 1995. Personal communication, August 29-31. Stringfield, Leonard, H. 1977. Situation Red: The UFO Siege. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, pp. 84, 177-179. Thomas, Dave. 1995. The Roswell incident and Project Mogul, SKEPTICAL INQUIRER 19(4) (July-August): pp. 15-18. Uthman, Ed. 1995. "Fox's 'Alien Autopsy': A Pathologist's View," Usenet,, September 15. Wallace, Cliff. 1995. Letter to Union Pictures, August 3, quoted in Wallace's letter to Graham Birdsall, UFO Magazine, August 16, quoted on ParaNet, August 22. Wecht, Cyril. 1995. Quoted on "Alien Autopsy: Fact or Fiction?" Fox Network, August 28 and September 4. Joe Nickell is Senior Research Fellow at CSICOP. This is his inaugural Investigative Files column. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------ 'Alien autopsy' show-and-tell: long on tell, short on show. C. Eugene, Jr. Emery 11/21/95 Skeptical Inquirer There's nothing more maddening than having someone invite you to make up your own mind about a controversy, only to have them refuse to give you the tools to do it. That's precisely what the Fox television network did August 28 and September 4, 1995, when it presented a one-hour special "Alien Autopsy: Fact or Fiction?" that was billed as the network premiere of a 17-minute film purporting to be the autopsy of a space creature found near Roswell, New Mexico, in 1947. [See also the SI Special Report on Roswell by Philip J. Klass in this issue, p. 20 and Joe Nickell's column on p. 17.] Instead of simply showing the 17 minutes, viewers got to see maybe three, four, or five minutes of footage chopped up into MTV-sized snippets that were repeated throughout the hour. Instead of a tough skeptical analysis of a film that has been kept tightly under wraps by its owner, executive producer Robert Kiviat - whose resume includes being a coordinating producer on Fox's pseudoscience newsmagazine program "Encounters" - "Alien Autopsy" tended to showcase interviews from people who seemed convinced that the footage was either real, or a complicated hoax that would have been extremely difficult to pull off. "Alien Autopsy" was far from one-sided. Kiviat repeatedly had the host, "Star Trek" actor Jonathan Frakes, note that the movie could be a hoax, and Kiviat addressed some key criticisms. But other important criticisms were muted, ignored, taken out of context, or simply brushed aside. It's understandable that some people would be impressed by the film. The snippets the producers chose to air looked convincing in many ways. Scalpels seemed to cut flesh. A skin flap from the skull seemed to be pulled over the face. Dark innards were removed from the brain area and the body cavity, and placed into pans. The tools and equipment seemed to be from the right era. Yet when it comes to exposing a clever fraud, the devil is in the details. By failing to show the entire film, one was left to wonder whether Fox was leaving out the portions that might have flagged the movie as bogus. "Alien Autopsy" comes at a difficult time for UFO enthusiasts. Today's cutting-edge UFO tales have become so extraordinary, they're often met with derision, even by people in the increasingly sensationalist media. That's why the focus seems to have shifted to Roswell, where the details are still intriguing enough to fire the imagination, and the facts and recollections have been polished' bright by the passage of time. With its simple tale of a crashed saucer, a few space aliens, and a government cover-up, the Roswell story seems far more plausible (relatively speaking) than today's tales of aliens passing through walls, millions of Americans being abducted by sex-obsessed space creatures, and extraterrestrials who create alien-human babies. UFO believers thought they had the Roswell affair pretty well figured out. "Alien Autopsy" has shaken things up because the in, ages in the film don't always conform to the picture the believers have painstakingly constructed over the years. The creature on the autopsy table is tall, its eyes are too small, it has too many fingers and toes, and it looks too humanlike, complete with humanlike ears and toenails. Some enthusiasts had expressed the fear that "Alien Autopsy" would discredit some of the work that has gone into uncovering the truth at Roswell. Such fears may be justified. In the media, it's the images, not facts, that shape public attitudes and debates these days. Long after people have forgotten the details of a Roswell book or article, they're going to remember the video of this six-fingered "alien" undergoing an "autopsy." The film snippets that were shown raised all kinds of questions, and provided few answers. Some examples: * One small part of the film shows someone making a cut in the skin along the neck. Did the full-length film include the showing of any dissection of the cut area? Was this cutting of skin simply done for effect, possibly with a trick knife that makes a glistening mark on the body that appears to be the blood from an incision? * One section of the film shows an intact body (except for a large leg wound). Another shows the thorax and abdomen cut open. Were there any steps in between, or did possible hoaxers making the film simply cut open a latex dummy, dump animal guts inside, and pretend to take them out? * There were film clips of organs, such as the brain, being removed. But organs can't be pulled from a body like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle. They're held in position by sometimes-tough connective tissue that must first be cut away. The film snippets on "Alien Autopsy" showed no evidence of that type of dissection. That flaw - if it is a flaw - was most obvious when the doctor plucked the dark covering off the eye. Unless these were simply extraterrestrial contact lenses, a piece of the eye isn't going to come away that easily without some connective tissue being sliced first. * Where was everybody? How many people would turn down the chance to watch the historic autopsy of a creature from another world? Yet there were only two people in this room, in addition to the cameraman. * Why did the person watching from behind the glass partition, and not in the room, need to be suited up? * For such an extraordinary autopsy, why did there seem to be so little effort to document it? There was no attempt to weigh or label the specimens, and there were just a few shots of someone putting data on a single sheet of paper. * Why was the supposedly experienced cameraman - who also claims to have been present when three alien creatures were found - trying to take close-ups that invariably made the film go out of focus? Good photographers know when they're getting too close to their subject and need to switch to a lens with a more appropriate focal length. The fact is, an autopsy on a creature this extraordinary wouldn't be done the way this one was. The being would have been turned over so the back could be examined (in fact, the "doctors" seemed reluctant to move the body much at all). The skin would have been carefully stripped away to examine the pattern of the musculature. The origin and insertion of individual muscles would have been documented. Samples would have been taken, weighed, recorded and photographed. Only then' would the people behind the protective hoods have gone deeper into the gut, repeating the documentation process. When critics have questioned the quick removal of the black sheath on the eyes, the argument has been made that this was the third or fourth alien autopsied, so the procedure was becoming easier. The argument doesn't wash. Unless this was one of scores of alien bodies, researchers would want to handle each case with excruciating care so they could compare and contrast the individuals. Unfortunately, the people who were skeptical of the film - ironically, including people prominent in the UFO movement - were given little time and almost no opportunity to explain their skepticism, making them appear to be little more than debunkers. Kent Jeffrey, who argued months earlier that the film is a hoax, only got to predict that it will probably eventually be exposed as a fraud. The criticisms of one Hollywood filmmaker, who thought the movie was bogus, were quickly countered by a cameraman from the era who said it wasn't surprising that this autopsy cameraman would allow his view to be blocked or parts of the movie to be out of focus. Then there were things the show didn't tell viewers. "Alien Autopsy" quoted Laurence Cate of Kodak, who said the markings on the film indicate it was manufactured in 1927, 1947 or 1967. The program didn't make it clear that Cate is not an expert in authentication, according to the Sunday Times of London. Paolo Cherchi Usai, senior curator at George Eastman House, a photography museum, based his observation that the film would be difficult to fabricate on seeing the 17 minutes of film and about five frames of leader film that carried no date coding and was supposedly clipped from the beginning of one of the rolls of film. Conclusive tests on the film had yet to be done. The Hollywood special effects team led by Stan Winston gave the most impressive testimonial. But I got the impression they were being asked to gauge the difficulty of staging a bogus alien autopsy back in 1947. Winston and his associates said the special effects were good, even by today's standards, but from the clips shown on "Alien Autopsy," this television program didn't seem to come close to rivaling the quality of films you could rent in any video store. The bottom line is that if the film is legitimate and this is the first solid evidence of life on other planets, it deserves real authentication, not the casual checking the program provided. Independent experts need to pinpoint the date of the frames, then examine all the reels to be sure the entire film has the same date code. For all we know, most of the film is from contemporary stock. Checking the whole film would dramatically narrow the range of possibilities for a hoax. The cameraman needs to be identified and questioned to confirm that he exists, that he was in the military, and that he really was the cameraman. There's been talk that he wants to avoid being prosecuted by the government for keeping a copy of the film all these years. That's claptrap. If the film is a hoax, why would the government bother him? If the film is real, dragging a more-than-80-year-old military veteran into court would be an admission by the government that the footage is real, and that would spark some tough questions about who or what was on that examining table. The government, not the photographer, would be on the hot seat. But instead of insisting on authentication first, Fox seemed intent on milking the movie for every penny possible. The network repeated the program one week after its original showing and tried to drum up renewed interest for the rerun by promising more footage from the 17-minute film. Those who turned in saw about three additional minutes of footage, but Fox still didn't show the whole 17-minute film. In all, the autopsy sequences were only on the screen for 13-1/2 minutes and, once again, that total included clips that were shown repeatedly. It was not what you would expect from a major network that thought it was broadcasting a history-making film. It was, however, what you would expect from a network trying very hard not to spoil an illusion. Gene Emery is the science writer for the Providence Journal-Bulletin, 75 Fountain St., Providence, RI 02902.


E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank