Is Roswell In The Eye Of The Beholder?
Many readers may know about the famous photograph from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram taken on July 8th of 1947. A young photographer on the staff, J. Bond Johnson, was sent to the Fort Worth Army Airfield and shown to the office of General Roger Ramey to take pictures of debris recovered from the crash of an object near Roswell. In the 1990s, researchers noticed that in one of the photos, General Ramey was holding a piece of paper in his hand. Some claimed that words such as “victims” “crash,” and “weather balloons” could be made out when the photo was magnified.
The controversy raged for many years until James Houran from the Dept. of Psychiatry of the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine and Roswell UFO crash researcher and advocate Kevin Randle decided to put the “Ramey memo” to a test. A paper published in Vol. 16 #1 (2002) of the Journal of Scientific Exploration described an experiment that presented three groups of subjects with the best images available and asked them to pick out any words that they could see:
Previous analyses of a photograph showing a document held by General Ramey from the Roswell UFO case reportedly revealed content that supported a crashed extraterrestrial craft scenario. Other investigators of this document suggested, however, that it was ambiguous stimuli being interpreted by pro-Roswell investigators in accordance with their expectations. To assess the possible extent of bias in these interpretations, we had three randomly assigned groups of participants attempt to decipher the document under different suggestion conditions: one condition in which we told participants (N= 59) they were looking at a document pertaining to the famous Roswell UFO case, a second condition in which we told participants (N= 58) that they were looking at a document pertaining to secret testing of the atomic bomb, and a final condition in which participants (N= 59) were told nothing about the possible content of the document.
What the study found was that at least in this case, the participants saw what they expected to see. The lowest number of words were discerned by the group who were told nothing about the image. The most words “found” (almost the same amount from both groups) were from the participants who were told that the photo either pertained to the Roswell UFO crash or some sort of atomic test.
The surprisingly high agreement between our participants and previous investigators on specific words in identical locations in the Ramey memo suggests that some of the document is indeed legible, even without computer enhancement. However, the meaning or context of those words remains ambiguous because the degree of interpretation of the document is strongly influenced by suggestion effects and the interpreterâ€™s cognitive style. We are inclined to believe that such effects have also tainted the previous studies on the memo using sophisticated software because there appears to be weak interrater reliability among these earlier analysts. In fact, ufologists are probably among the least effective people to be trying to decipher the document. This opinion stems from our observation that one of the main factors arguably influencing the number of words deciphered in this study is the motivation of the participants. Note that those in the Pro-UFO condition spent more time examining the images and subsequently perceived the greatest number of words in the Ramey memo.
We might expand this idea to the whole problem of perception amongst those who try to convince us that something exists (UFOs) which are not currently testable in the scientific sense, and their confusion as to why more people cannot see what is “obvious” to them. Unfortunately, a large portion of this group are locked in to a belief system which dictates that this untestable phenomenon is the result of visitors from other planets, which is an assumption riding on a theory. This attitude has still not garnered serious attention from some who should be looking at the enigma.
It is fairly certain that many people have witnessed anomalous flying objects and even apparent entities associated with them for millenia, but the problem is getting the gatekeepers of consensus reality to acknowledge that the weight of observed evidence is worthy of at least some serious attention and study. Whether this involves a closer examination of our perception and beliefs, or of the reports themselves (or more likely both) deserves consideration.
P.S. Happy 62nd Anniversary of the Kenneth Arnold sighting!
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