ZEN. . . AND THE ART OF DEBUNKERY
(C) 1993 by Daniel Drasin. All rights reserved.
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So you've had a close encounter with a UFO or its occupants. Or a
serious interest in the subject of extramundane life. Or a passion for
following clues that seem to point toward the existence of a greater
reality. Mention any of these things to most working scientists and
be prepared for anything from patronizing skepticism to merciless
ridicule. After all, science is supposed to be a purely hardnosed
enterprise with little patience for "expanded" notions of reality.
Like all systems of truth seeking, science, properly conducted,
has a profoundly expansive, spiritual impulse at its core. This "Zen"
in the heart of science is revealed when the practitioner sets aside
arbitrary beliefs and cultural preconceptions, and approaches the
nature of things with "beginner's mind." When this is done, reality
can speak freshly and freely, and can be heard more clearly.
Appropriate testing and objective validation can--indeed, *must*--
Seeing with humility, curiosity and fresh eyes was once the
main point of science. But today it is often a different story. As the
scientific enterprise has been bent toward exploitation,
institutionalization, hyperspecialization and new orthodoxy, it has
increasingly preoccupied itself with disconnected facts in a
spiritual, psychological, social and ecological vacuum. Virtually
gone from the scene is the philosopherscientist, to whom meaning
and context were once the very fabric of a multi-level universe.
Today's mainstream science tends, instead, to deny or disregard
entire domains of reality, and satisfies itself with reducing all of
life and consciousness to a dead physics.
As we approach the end of the millennium, science seems in
many ways to be treading the weary path of the religions it
presumed to replace. Where free, dispassionate inquiry once reigned,
emotions now run high in the defense of a fundamentalized
"scientific truth." As anomalies mount up beneath a sea of denial,
defenders of the Faith and the Kingdom cling with increasing self-
righteousness to the hull of a sinking paradigm. Faced with
provocative evidence of things undreamt of in their materialist
philosophy, many otherwise mature scientists revert to a kind of
skeptical infantilism characterized by blind faith in the
absoluteness of the familiar. Small wonder that, after more than
half a century, the UFO remains shrouded in superstition, ignorance,
denial, disinformation, taboo . . . and debunkery.
What is "debunkery?" As intended here, it is the attempt to
*debunk* (invalidate) new information and insight by substituting
scient*istic* propaganda for scient*ific* method.
To throw this kind of pseudoscientific behavior into bold--if
somewhat comic--relief, I have assembled below a useful "how-to"
guide for aspiring debunkers, with a special section devoted to
debunking the UFO--perhaps the most aggressively debunked subject
in the whole of modern history. As will be obvious to the reader, I
have carried a few of these debunking strategies over the threshold
of absurdity for the sake of making a point. As for the rest, their
inherently fallacious reasoning, twisted logic and sheer goofiness
will sound frustratingly familar to those who have dared explore
beneath the ocean of denial and attempted in good faith to report
back about what they found there.
So without further ado . . .
== HOW TO DEBUNK JUST ABOUT ANYTHING ==
*PART 1: GENERAL DEBUNKERY*
<>Before commencing to debunk, prepare your equipment.
Equipment needed: one armchair.
<> Put on the right face. Cultivate a condescending air that
suggests that your personal opinions are backed by the full faith and
credit of God. Employ vague, subjective, dismissive terms such as
"ridiculous" or "trivial" in a manner that suggests they have the full
force of scientific authority.
<> Portray science not as an open-ended process of discovery
but as a holy war against unruly hordes of quackery-worshipping
infidels. Since in war the ends justify the means, you may fudge,
stretch or violate scientific method, or even omit it entirely, in the
name of defending scientific method.
<> Keep your arguments as abstract and theoretical as possible.
This will "send the message" that accepted theory overrides any
actual evidence that might challenge it--and that therefore no such
evidence is worth examining.
<> Reinforce the popular misconception that certain subjects
are inherently unscientific. In other words, deliberately confuse the
*process* of science with the *content* of science. (Someone may,
of course, object that science must be neutral to subject matter and
that only the investigative *process* can be scientifically
responsible or irresponsible. If that happens, dismiss such
objections using a method employed successfully by generations of
politicians: simply reassure everyone that "there is no contradiction
<> Arrange to have your message echoed by persons of
authority. The degree to which you can stretch the truth is directly
proportional to the prestige of your mouthpiece.
<> Always refer to unorthodox statements as "claims," which
are "touted," and to your own assertions as "facts," which are
<> Avoid examining the actual evidence. This allows you to say
with impunity, "I have seen absolutely no evidence to support such
ridiculous claims!" (Note that this technique has withstood the test
of time, and dates back at least to the age of Galileo. By simply
refusing to look through his telescope, the ecclesiastical authorities
bought the Church over three centuries' worth of denial free and
<> If examining the evidence becomes unavoidable, report back
that "there is nothing new here!" If confronted by a watertight body
of evidence that has survived the most rigorous tests, simply
dismiss it as being "too pat."
<> Equate the necessary skeptical component of science with
*all* of science. Emphasize the narrow, stringent, rigorous and
critical elements of science to the exclusion of intuition,
inspiration, exploration and integration. If anyone objects, accuse
them of viewing science in exclusively fuzzy, subjective or
<> Insist that the progress of science depends on explaining the
unknown in terms of the known. In other words, science equals
reductionism. You can apply the reductionist approach in any
situation by discarding more and more and more evidence until what
little is left can finally be explained entirely in terms of
<> Downplay the fact that free inquiry, legitimate
disagreement and respectful debate are a normal part of science.
<> At every opportunity reinforce the notion that what is
familiar is necessarily rational. The unfamiliar is therefore
irrational, and consequently inadmissible as evidence.
<> State categorically that the unconventional arises
exclusively from the "will to believe" and may be dismissed as, at
best, an honest misinterpretation of the conventional.
<> Maintain that in investigations of unconventional
phenomena, a single flaw invalidates the whole. In conventional
contexts, however, you may sagely remind the world that, "after all,
situations are complex and human beings are imperfect."
<> "Occam's Razor," or the "principle of parsimony," says the
correct explanation of a mystery will usually involve the simplest
fundamental principles. Insist, therefore, that the most familiar
explanation is by definition the simplest! Imply strongly that
Occam's Razor is not merely a philosophical rule of thumb but an
<> Discourage any study of history that may reveal today's
dogma as yesterday's heresy. Likewise, avoid discussing the many
historical, philosophical and spiritual parallels between science and
<> Since the public tends to be unclear about the distinction
between evidence and proof, do your best to help maintain this
murkiness. If absolute proof is lacking, state categorically that
there is no evidence.
<> If sufficient evidence has been presented to warrant
further investigation of an unusual phenomenon, argue that
"evidence alone proves nothing!" Ignore the fact that preliminary
evidence is not supposed to prove *anything*.
<> In any case, imply that proof precedes evidence. This will
eliminate the possibility of initiating any meaningful process of
investigation--particularly if no criteria of proof have yet been
established for the phenomenon in question.
<> Insist that criteria of proof cannot possibly be established
for phenomena that do not exist!
<> Although science is not supposed to tolerate vague or double
standards, always insist that unconventional phenomena must be
judged by a separate, yet ill-defined, set of scientific rules. Do this
by declaring that "extraordinary claims demand extraordinary
evidence"--but take care never to define where the "ordinary" ends
and the "extraordinary" begins. This will allow you to manufacture
an infinitely receding evidential horizon, i.e., to define
"extraordinary" evidence as that which lies just out of reach at any
point in time.
<> Practice debunkery-by-association. Lump together all
phenomena popularly deemed paranormal and suggest that their
proponents and researchers speak with a single voice. In this way
you can indiscriminately drag material across disciplinary lines or
from one case to another to support your views as needed. For
example, if a claim having some superficial similarity to the one at
hand has been (or is popularly assumed to have been) exposed as
fraudulent, cite it as if it were an appropriate example. Then put on
a gloating smile, lean back in your armchair and just say "I rest my
<> Use the word "imagination" as an epithet that applies only
to seeing what's *not* there, and not to denying what *is* there.
<> If a significant number of people agree that they have
observed something that violates the consensus reality, simply
ascribe it to "mass hallucination." Avoid addressing the possibility
that the consensus reality, which is routinely observed by millions,
might itself constitute a mass hallucination.
<> Ridicule, ridicule, ridicule. It is far and away the single
most chillingly effective weapon in the war against discovery and
innovation. Ridicule has the unique power to make people of virtually
any persuasion go completely unconscious in a twinkling. It fails to
sway only those few who are of sufficiently independent mind not to
buy into the kind of emotional consensus that ridicule provides.
<> By appropriate innuendo and example, imply that ridicule
constitutes an essential feature of scientific method that can raise
the level of objectivity, integrity and dispassionateness with which
any investigation is conducted.
<> Imply that investigators of the unorthodox are zealots.
Suggest that in order to investigate the existence of something one
must first believe in it absolutely. Then demand that all such "true
believers" know all the answers to their most puzzling questions in
complete detail ahead of time. Convince people of your own sincerity
by reassuring them that you yourself would "love to believe in these
fantastic phenomena." Carefully sidestep the fact that science is
not about believing or disbelieving, but about finding out.
<> Use "smoke and mirrors," i.e., obfuscation and illusion.
Never forget that a slippery mixture of fact, opinion, innuendo, out-
of-context information and outright lies will fool most of the people
most of the time. As little as one part fact to ten parts B.S. will
usually do the trick. (Some veteran debunkers use homeopathic
dilutions of fact with remarkable success!) Cultivate the art of
slipping back and forth between fact and fiction so undetectably
that the flimsiest foundation of truth will always appear to firmly
support your entire edifice of opinion.
<> Employ "TCP": Technically Correct Pseudo-refutation.
Example: if someone remarks that all great truths began as
blasphemies, respond immediately that not all blasphemies have
become great truths. Because your response was technically correct,
no one will notice that it did not really refute the original remark.
<> Trivialize the case by trivializing the entire field in
question. Characterize the study of orthodox phenomena as deep and
timeconsuming, while deeming that of unorthodox phenomena so
insubstantial as to demand nothing more than a scan of the tabloids.
If pressed on this, simply say "but there's nothing there to study!"
Characterize any serious investigator of the unorthodox as a "buff"
or "freak," or as "self-styled"-the media's favorite code-word for
<> Remember that most people do not have sufficient time or
expertise for careful discrimination, and tend to accept or reject
the whole of an unfamiliar situation. So discredit the whole story by
attempting to discredit *part* of the story. Here's how: a) take one
element of a case completely out of context; b) find something
prosaic that hypothetically could explain it; c) declare that
therefore that one element has been explained; d) call a press
conference and announce to the world that the entire case has been
<> Engage the services of a professional stage magician who
can mimic the phenomenon in question; for example, ESP,
psychokinesis or levitation. This will convince the public that the
original claimants or witnesses to such phenomena must themselves
have been (or been fooled by) talented stage magicians who hoaxed
the original phenomenon in precisely the same way.
<> Find a prosaic phenomenon that resembles, no matter how
superficially, the claimed phenomenon. Then suggest that the
existence of the commonplace look-alike somehow forbids the
existence of the genuine article. For example, imply that since
people often see "faces" in rocks and clouds, the enigmatic Face on
Mars must be a similar illusion and therefore cannot possibly be
<> When an unexplained phenomenon demonstrates evidence of
intelligence (as in the case of the mysterious crop circles) focus
exclusively on the mechanism that might have been wielded by the
intelligence rather than the intelligence that might have wielded the
mechanism. The more attention you devote to the mechanism, the
more easily you can distract people from considering the possibility
of nonphysical or nonterrestrial intelligence.
<> Accuse investigators of unusual phenomena of believing in
"invisible forces and extrasensory realities." If they should point
out that the physical sciences have *always* dealt with invisible
forces and extrasensory realities (gravity? electromagnetism? . . . )
respond with a condescending chuckle that this is "a naive
interpretation of the facts."
<> Insist that western science is completely objective, and is
based on no untestable assumptions, covert beliefs or ideological
interests. If an unfamiliar or inexplicable phenomenon happens to be
considred true and/or useful by a nonwestern or other traditional
society, you may therefore dismiss it out of hand as "ignorant
misconception," "medieval superstition" or "fairy lore."
<> Label any poorly-understood phenomenon "occult,"
"paranormal," "metaphysical," "mystical" or "supernatural." This
will get most mainstream scientists off the case immediately on
purely emotional grounds. If you're lucky, this may delay any
responsible investigation of such phenomena by decades or even
<> Ask questions that appear to contain generally-assumed
knowledge that supports your views; for example, "why do no police
officers, military pilots, air traffic controllers or psychiatrists
report UFOs?" (If someone points out that they do, insist that those
who do must be mentally unstable.)
<> Ask unanswerable questions based on arbitrary criteria of
proof. For example, "if this claim were true, why haven't we seen it
on TV?" or "in this or that scientific journal?" Never forget the
mother of all such questions: "If UFOs are extraterrestrial, why
haven't they landed on the White House lawn?"
<> Remember that you can easily appear to refute anyone's
claims by building "straw men" to demolish. One way to do this is to
misquote them while preserving that convincing grain of truth; for
example, by acting as if they have intended the extreme of any
position they've taken. Another effective strategy with a long
history of success is simply to misreplicate their experiments--or
to avoid replicating them at all on grounds that to do so would be
ridiculous or fruitless. To make the whole process even easier,
respond not to their actual claims but to their claims as reported by
the media, or as propagated in popular myth.
<> Insist that such-and-such unorthodox claim is not
scientifically testable because no self-respecting grantmaking
organization would fund such ridiculous tests.
<> Be selective. For example, if an unorthodox healing method
has failed to reverse a case of terminal illness you may deem it
worthlesswhile taking care to avoid mentioning any of the
shortcomings of conventional medicine.
<> Hold claimants responsible for the production values and
editorial policies of any media or press that reports their claim. If
an unusual or inexplicable event is reported in a sensationalized
manner, hold this as proof that the event itself must have been
without substance or worth.
<> When a witness or claimant states something in a manner
that is scientifically imperfect, treat this as if it were not
scientific at all. If the claimant is not a credentialed scientist,
argue that his or her perceptions cannot possibly be objective.
<> If you're unable to attack the facts of the case, attack the
participants--or the journalists who reported the case. Ad-hominem
arguments, or personality attacks, are among the most powerful
ways of swaying the public and avoiding the issue. For example, if
investigators of the unorthodox have profited financially from
activities connected with their research, accuse them of "profiting
financially from activities connected with their research!" If their
research, publishing, speaking tours and so forth, constitute their
normal line of work or sole means of support, hold that fact as
"conclusive proof that income is being realized from such
activities!" If they have labored to achieve public recognition for
their work, you may safely characterize them as "publicity seekers."
<> Fabricate supportive expertise as needed by quoting the
opinions of those in fields popularly assumed to include the
necessary knowledge. Astronomers, for example, may be trotted out
as experts on the UFO question, although course credits in ufology
have never been a prerequisite for a degree in astronomy.
<> Fabricate confessions. If a phenomenon stubbornly refuses
to go away, set up a couple of colorful old geezers to claim they
hoaxed it. The press and the public will always tend to view
confessions as sincerely motivated, and will promptly abandon their
critical faculties. After all, nobody wants to appear to lack
compassion for self-confessed sinners.
<> Fabricate sources of disinformation. Claim that you've
"found the person who started the rumor that such a phenomenon
<> Fabricate entire research projects. Declare that "these
claims have been thoroughly discredited by the top experts in the
field!" Do this whether or not such experts have ever actually
studied the claims, or, for that matter, even exist.
*PART 2: DEBUNKING THE UFO*
<> Point out that an "unidentified" flying object is just that,
and cannot be automatically assumed to be extraterrestrial. Do this
whether or not anyone involved *has* assumed it to be
<> Equate nature's laws with our current understanding of
nature's laws. Then label all concepts such as antigravity or
interdimensional mobility as mere flights of fancy "because
obviously they would violate nature's laws." Then if a UFO is
reported to have hovered silently, made right-angle turns at
supersonic speeds or appeared and disappeared instantly, you may
summarily dismiss the report.
<> Declare that there is no proof that life can exist in outer
space. Since most people still behave as if the Earth were the center
of the universe, you may safely ignore the fact that Earth, which is
already in outer space, has abundant life.
<> Point out that the government-sponsored SETI program
assumes in advance that extraterrestrial intelligence can only exist
light-years away from Earth. Equate this a-priori assumption with
conclusive proof; then insist that this invalidates all terrestrial
reports of ET contact.
<> When someone produces purported physical evidence of alien
technology, point out that no analysis can prove that its origin was
extraterrestrial; after all, it might be the product of some perfectly
ordinary, ultra-secret underground government lab. The only
exception would be evidence obtained from a landing on the White
House lawn-the sole circumstance universally agreed upon by
generations of skeptics as conclusively certifying extraterrestrial
<> If photographs or other visual media depicting a UFO have
been presented, argue that since images can now be digitally
manipulated they prove nothing. Assert this regardless of the
vintage of the material or the circumstances of its acquisition.
Insist that the better the quality of a UFO photo, the greater the
likelihood of fraud. Photos that have passed every known test may
therefore be held to be the most perfectly fraudulent of all!
<> If you can't otherwise destroy the credibility of a UFO
photo, plant a small model of the alleged craft near the
photographer's home where it can be conveniently discovered and
whisked off to the local media. The model need not resemble the
original too closely; as long as the press says it's a dead ringer
nobody will question the implication of fraud.
<> Argue that all reports of humanoid extraterrestrials must
be bogus because the evolution of the humanoid form on Earth is the
result of an infinite number of accidents in a genetically isolated
environment. Avoid addressing the logical proposition that if
interstellar visitations have occurred, Earth cannot be considered
genetically isolated in the first place.
<> Argue that extraterrestrials would or wouldn't, should or
shouldn't, can or can't behave in certain ways because such behavior
would or wouldn't be logical. Base your notions of logic on how
terrestrials would or wouldn't behave. Since terrestrials behave in
all kinds of ways you can theorize whatever kind of behavior suits
<> Stereotype contact claims according to simplistic scenarios
already well established in the collective imagination. If a reported
ET contact appears to have had no negative consequences,
sarcastically accuse the claimant of believing devoutly that
"benevolent ETs have come to magically save us from destroying
ourselves!" If someone claims to have been traumatized by an alien
contact, brush it aside as "a classic case of hysteria." If contactees
stress the essential humanness and limitations of certain ETs they
claim to have met, ask "why haven't these omnipotent beings offered
to solve all our problems for us?"
<> Ask why alleged contactees and abductees haven't received
alien infections. Reject as "preposterous" all medical evidence
suggesting that such may in fact have occurred. Categorize as "pure
science-fiction" the notion that alien understandings of immunology
might be in advance of our own, or that sufficiently alien
microorganisms might be limited in their ability to interact with
our biological systems.
Above all, dismiss anything that might result in an actual
investigation of the matter.
<> Travel to China. Upon your return, report that "nobody there
told me they had seen any UFOs." Insist that this proves that no UFOs
are reported outside countries whose populations are overexposed to
<> Where hypnotic regression has yielded consistent contactee
testimony in widespread and completely independent cases, argue
that hypnosis is probably unreliable, and is always worthless in the
hands of non-credentialed practitioners. Be sure to add that the
subjects must have been steeped in the UFO literature, and that,
whatever their credentials, the hypnotists involved must have been
asking leading questions.
<> If someone claims to have been emotionally impacted by a
contact experience, point out that strong emotions can alter
perceptions. Therefore, the claimant's recollections must be
<> Maintain that there cannot possibly be a government UFO
coverupÉ but that it exists for legitimate reasons of national
<> Accuse conspiracy theorists of being conspiracy theorists
and of believing in conspiracies! Insist that only *accidentalist*
theories can possibly account for repeated, organized patterns of
suppression, denial and disinformational activity.
<> Argue that since theoretically there can be no press
censorship in the United States, there is no press censorship in the
<> In the event of a worst-case scenario--for example, one in
which the UFO is suddenly acknowledged as a global mystery of
millennial proportions--just remember that the public has a short
memory. Simply say dismissively, "Well, everyone knows this is a
monumentally significant issue. As a matter of fact, my colleagues
and I have been remarking on it for years!"
* * *
Daniel Drasin is a media producer, writer, musician and award-
winning cinematographer with a passionate interest in the field of
New Science. He lives in Boulder, Colorado and chases flying saucers
in his spare time.
* * *