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Skeptics Take Aim At The UFOs In Arizona Skies.

By Jim Nintzel

SOMETIMES YOU HAVE to wonder if we're not living in the End Times after all.

Take, for example, Gov. J. Fife Symington III's surreal press conference last week, where he announced--with the same straight face he'd no doubt used with his many lenders--that state troopers had captured the space alien responsible for those mysterious lights that drifted across Arizona skies on March 13.

When the ET was brought out on stage, it turned out to be Symington aide Jay Heiler in a Halloween costume.

The hoax made national news and proved to be a public-relations hit for Symington, even if it did upset staffers at the hapless Phoenix TV station which aired the press conference live. Sorry, suckers--but given the testimony that's come out during the governor's fraud trial, you'd have to be a little crazy to trust that deadbeat anyway.

And while the national media probed the mystery of the lights over Phoenix, a small group of skeptics gathered last weekend at a Tucson hotel to turn a critical eye toward the likelihood of spacecraft from another galaxy buzzing across the Grand Canyon state.

Billed as "UFOs: 50 Years of Myth," the conference was sponsored by Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, or more acronymically correct, CSICOP.

"I would love to know there was other life out there in the universe, that we're not alone, that they're visiting us," says Barry Karr, CSICOP's executive director. "But I'm not willing to suspend my better judgment until I see some convincing evidence."

Karr, who started working at CSICOP back in his college days, blames the media for the proliferation of UFO stories.

"As cable has expanded, the major news organizations, to compete for ratings, have become more sensational," Karr says. "And now you have Hard Copy or Current Affair or whatever."

Karr cites the story of the Roswell incident as a prime example. The UFO community believes a flying saucer crashed outside the tiny New Mexico farming town 50 years ago, while the Air Force insists the wreckage was from a top-secret atomic spying balloon.

"I'm totally amazed at how big Roswell has become," Karr says. "I wouldn't have guessed a year ago that Roswell would be on the cover of Time magazine or you'd find mention of it in movies like The Rock. Sean Connery's character was locked up in Alcatraz because he was going to reveal government secrets about Roswell. It's become part of the cultural mythology now."

In an age when even the governor of Arizona is speculating about the possibility of space aliens, Karr's skeptical organization has its work cut out for it. To help debunk the ever-growing collection of wild tales, CSICOP publishes the Skeptical Inquirer, with a circulation about 50,000 copies distributed in about 70 countries.

Still, UFO debunking is like fighting the Hydra--for every UFO tale Karr and his associates shoot down, two more take its place. And often, even the UFO researchers that have been thoroughly discredited, like Erich Von Däniken (author of Chariots of the Gods?), make comebacks.

"It's frustrating from a skeptical point of view," Karr says. "It's like a rubber duck in a bathtub. You can sink it but it floats right back up. That kind of reinforces the need for organized skeptics, I guess. Somebody's got to keep the history and say this was debunked in the '70s or this was debunked in the '80s or whenever, plus you always have to be on the lookout for the next case."

But nobody at the conference has an explanation for the "next case"--those strange lights that passed over Phoenix in March.

"I don't know what it is," says Karr. "I think people should reserve judgment. There's nothing wrong with saying, 'I don't know.' Do I think it's a visitor from another planet? No. Do I think it's a misidentification of something or a hoax? It's possible, but I can't tell you what it is yet, because I don't know. But I think the least likely explanation is a visitor from another planet."

Unsatisfying an explanation as that was, Karr's thoughts were echoed by New Mexico physicist Dave Thomas, who gave a talk about the legendary Roswell crash.

"I think it's OK to have an open mind to the possibility that maybe--just maybe--this might be some alien visitor," Thomas said. "But that must be joined with keeping an open mind to the many explanations that time and time again have been found to account for these sightings."







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