Exposing PseudoAstronomy

September 1, 2014

Podcast Episode 117: Eyewitness Accounts and UFOs, Interview with Dr. Elizabeth Loftus


Human memory,
UFO reports, and their
Reli’bility.

Finally, a new episode is out. I saw Dr. Elizabeth Loftus talk at TAM this year, and I asked her to come on the podcast to discuss her research into human memory and how malleable human memory is, with implications for UFO reports.

I tend not to discuss UFO = aliens much on my blog or podcast. That’s because so much of the claimed evidence these days has mostly to do with eyewitness reports which I really find fairly unconvincing. I also find the Argument from Authority angle – that this was a report made by a “trained observer” or someone with “impeccable credentials” – very off-putting, for it really doesn’t mean their memory is any better than anyone else’s, it’s just an attempt by the proponent to make it sound more trustworthy.

What Dr. Loftus discusses in the roughly 15-minute interview are some of the details of her research over the past three decades into how much human memory can be manipulated. She hasn’t studied UFO reports in particular, so could not directly comment on that, but she is familiar enough with them and with the topic of how to interview a witness and how manipulate memory in general that she could comment on it.

Due to ongoing ridiculously large and numerous time commitments, I’m not sure how many episodes I can put out this month, so it’s possible that this one is it. Hopefully not, but we’ll see.

8 Comments »

  1. That was an interesting episode. I’ve long known that accident investigators are warned specifically to watch out for inadvertant memory contamination.

    One classic case from the 1930’s involved a plane crash in Australia where the eyewitness statements put the searchers in the wrong area and nearly led to the deaths of the survivors from exposure.

    Comment by Graham — September 1, 2014 @ 6:11 pm | Reply

    • It’s a hard problem. I think that perhaps one of the best ways to do an interview is to blind it, such that the interviewer doesn’t know specifically what they’re looking for, at least at first. I know that presents its own problems, but it should be considered, especially for things that don’t matter as much, like a UFO report.

      Comment by Stuart Robbins — September 1, 2014 @ 6:14 pm | Reply

      • There is a UFO blog I’ve been following on the Cash-Landrum Case called Blue Blurry lines. The author is a believer, but he’s at least cognisant of the idea of witness contamination (And the problems with re-investigating a 30+ yr old case.) and did some good posts showing just how the original ‘investigators’ inadvertantly changed the eyewitness testimony. The posts linked to below show the process in action:

        Firstly, in changing the appearence of what they saw:

        http://www.blueblurrylines.com/2013/06/quest-for-accurate-picture-of-cash.html

        Secondly, in providing them with a ‘confession’ by an ‘insider’:

        http://www.blueblurrylines.com/2013/05/exonerating-helicopter-pilot.html

        Comment by Graham — September 1, 2014 @ 9:24 pm

      • I’ve been following a blog on the Cash-Landrum UFO case called “Blue Blurry Lines”, the author while a believer in the case, is aware of witness contamination and has in fact called out the original investigators for this. Some of his posts show how the interrogation techniques they used actually changed the appearance of what was seen from the original reports into what is now the popularly accepted version of the story.

        Comment by Graham — September 2, 2014 @ 7:24 pm

  2. Regarding how much human memory can be manipulated along with the conspiracy theories that the first Apollo mission (11) was faked in order to beat the Russkies to the moon, I’d read, somewhere along the line, that hypnosis was involved, among other means. Check out this post Apollo 11 mission press conference. Holy smoking gun, batman! I wonder what experts in the field of body language would have to say, much less lie detectors. I’m no expert but geez …. Talk about zombification.

    What do you think, Dr. Robbins?

    Comment by Lawrence — October 8, 2014 @ 3:00 am | Reply

    • I think these are guys who have gotten little if any sleep, have been pooping in bags and peeing through catheters for several days, would be lucky if they got a shower in, and now have to talk to a bunch of people they don’t care about rather than sleep with their wives.

      Comment by Stuart Robbins — October 9, 2014 @ 9:10 pm | Reply

      • I could see that being the case if this press conference was held a day or two or three after they splashed down but they splashed down July 24 and this press conference was almost 3 weeks later on August 12.

        Comment by Lawrence — October 13, 2014 @ 2:03 am

  3. “…Experts in the field of body language…” and “…lie detectors…” are your sources of evidence? Body language is an inconsistent indicator of a person’s mood. It amounts to the viewer reading things in, that the other person may or may not actually be thinking. And lie detectors are far from foolproof! They’re so unreliable, they’re not used as evidence in courts of law. If you want a humorous take on body language, listen to Weird Al Yankovic’s “Jackson Park Express”. Not sure if there’s anything that poignant about lie detectors out there…

    Comment by Rick K. — October 14, 2014 @ 8:43 pm | Reply


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