Friday, August 8, 2008

Mitchell the Lunar Lunatic

On 4th of July, Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell appeared on the Larry King Live show, stating that aliens have indeed visited Earth. High ranking civilians and military officials told him so. In addition, the Roswell incident was indeed an extraterrestrial vehicle that crashed and since then has been kept in secluded and top-secret care of the US government. The fact that Mitchell knows this and the rest of us don't, is of course due to a massive cover-up by a government conspiracy against Truth and Mankind, a conspiracy embodied in an extremly secret organization called MJ-12, instigated by Harry S. Truman and ordered to take care of the ET matter. Basically, it's the same story that Mitchell has been telling over and over again for years. So the Larry King Live appearance was in no way sensational and American media subsequently did not bother to follow it up. Perhaps they know Mitchell by now.

Almost three weeks later, Mitchell repeated the story in an interview on a London radio station. This time, all hell broke loose and he made international headlines. In Sweden, conspiracy fetishist Torbjörn Sassersson hooked on and started to make accusations against Swedish ufologist organization UFO-Sverige, claiming they are in liaison with the military in keeping the lid on UFO reports. Clas Svahn, head of UFO-Sverige, rebutted referring to an old interview he did with Mitchell. Sassersson immediately counter-attacked with an alleged e-mail correspondence with Mitchell that in essence confirms Svahn's stand, which brings further doubt about Sassersson's state of mind. Once thrown out of the ufologists' forum due to misconduct, Sassersson then applied for a new account and triumphantly announced their reluctancy to grant him one as a sign of fear of his questions. And so the battle goes on, and on...

The promotor supreme of Swedish psychics, Mrs Caroline Giertz, is said to have described Sassersson as a terrier; once he gets a grip on something he doesn't let go. That is perhaps a too mild description of the pathological hysteria so often displayed by Sassersson. But Svahn, on the other hand, is far from critical concerning claims of paranormal nature and they both have one thing in common - they glorify Mitchell in a way that is naivë at best and deceptive at worst.

Years before Edgar Mitchell embarked on the Apollo 14, he took a trip to woo woo land - on a one-way ticket. Popular myth suggests that he had some kind of revelation in space but in reality, he was a woo woo during his student years and was later baptized into mysticism by Reverend Arthur Ford, the alleged medium who in 1928 claimed to have conveyed a message from the late Harry Houdini to his widow. The Houdini hoax was publicly exposed almost immediately after it was executed but mediums tend to survive such blemishes. Mitchell became friends with Ford in December 1969, perhaps because they shared a common interest in the idea of a rocket-to-earth ESP experiment. Unfortunately, Ford died just weeks before the Apollo 14 launch in 1971 and, incidentally, the nature of his mediumship became more than evident when a multitude of biographical notes and clippings on his sitters, disguised as the "poetry books" he used to read before seances, were discovered. (Christopher, 1975) But by then, Mitchell was probably too busy with space matters to learn from the lesson involuntary given by his friend. Or confirmation biased beyond reproach.

In the Olof Jonsson entry, I mentioned the Apollo 14 ESP experiment involving Mitchell as "sender" in space and four psychics - not two, as Svahn (2007) states in Det okända - as "receivers" on earth. The project was Mitchell's private sneak operation. A proposal from the American Society for Psychical Research for a telepathy experiment had been turned down by NASA in 1970, so Mitchell played it safe and kept his plans to himself and those involved.

The experiment was of fairly simple design. Christopher explains:
Mitchell wrote down two hundred numbers in eight columns of twenty-five numbers each on a piece of paper. The figures, chosen at random, ranged from one to five. The numbers would represent the five ESP symbols in a sequence to be chosen each time he attempted to transmit his thoughts earthward. The receivers were given the days and hours they should be receptive to the images Mitchell hoped would reach them. (Christopher, 1975, p. 106)

But things didn't go as planned. The launching of Apollo 14 was forty minutes late so Mitchell's first two "broadcasts" were delayed as well, i.e. the receivers of the first two runs were receiving on the scheduled time without anything being sent. Then Mitchell had to cancel two transmissions but was able to complete the last two on his way back to earth. But Jonsson and one of the anonymous receivers made notes on all six of the planned transmissions. I think you understand where this is going. Due to the first two delayed transmissions, parapsychologists Rhine and Osis, who volunteered to evaluate the "data", decided it was not a test of telepathy, but of precognition. It's a good thing that research design is so flexible... And what about the scores? You may have heard or seen Mitchell stating that the experiment was successful and yilded results of 3000 to 1. Journalist and ufologist Svahn (2007) quotes him stating it, but also refers to Semitjov (1979) who states a somewhat more modest, but still significant, result. Something unusual did happen during the experiment, concludes Svahn.

If Svahn had read Mitchell's Psychic Exploration, he would have realized that something unusual happened after the experiment, namely during evaluation. Randi did read Mitchell, and quotes him:

The results were statistically significant, not because any of the receivers got a large number of direct hits but because the number of hits were so amazingly low. The statistical probability of scoring so few hits was about 3000:1. This negative ESP effect, called "psi-missing", is something that has frequently arisen in other psychic research work, and theorists are attempting to explain its significance. In any case, it offers good evidence for psi, because the laws of chance are bypassed to a significant degree. (Mitchell quoted in Randi, 1982, p. 115)

Please note that these are Mitchell's own words in his own book. And he is saying that telepathy, or precognition, was abscent during the experiment to such an extent that the absence must be judged as paranormal. That is the truth behind the "3000 to 1" result that Mitchell is flaunting around - the psychics performed remarkably poor! But Mitchell prefers to omit that part of the analysis. And journalists prefer to ignore Mitchell's account in Psychic Exploration. I wonder why...

Mitchell left NASA shortly after the Apollo 14 flight and founded the Institute of Noetic Sciences in Palo Alto, California. Its mission was to study theoretical and applied consciousness research and one of Mitchell's first endeavours was to raise funds to bring Uri Geller into the laboratory of the Stanford Research Institute (Christopher, 1975). He met the Israeli con artist at the luxurious home of Dr. Andrija Puharich, who had brought Geller to the US. Puharich and Mitchell then arranged a meeting with Targ and Puthoff, and the rest is pseudoscience history. Initially, Mitchell sat in during the SRI experiments but to his credit, he got frustrated because Targ and Puthoff totally lost controll of the situation, and left (Marks, 2000). Mitchell is, however, a devoted Gellerite, by all accounts. And Uri Geller is still the most exposed fraud in the history of psychical research.

For decades now, Edgar Mitchell has proven himself to be an ardent believer in all kinds of mumbo-jumbo. And as a fund raiser for a wide variety of paranormal projects, he has probably flushed more money down the toilet than most people. In assessing his credibility, people unfortunately focus on his space mission - someone who has walked the moon must know what he is talking about! And this blank check of confidence has kept Mitchell in the spotlight far too long, and far too often. Although a moon-pedestrian, the guy is a full-fledged woo woo and doesn't care what is right or wrong. He is willing and able to go to any lengths to promote the notions he feels must be true.

Take, for instance, the MJ12 documents. They have been proven forged over and over again (Klass, 2000). Yet Mitchell still refers to them. Why? Because he wants them to be genuine. And because some people will believe whatever he says because he walked the moon and because he tells them what they want to hear. That is what living in woo woo land is like. They make their own rules, and to hell with reality.

The only lid that is being kept on is the one covering the facts rebutting all the lunacy Mitchell is spreading. And while the likes of Sassersson are sitting on the lid, the likes of Svahn look the other way out of undeserved respect.

Christopher, M., (1975). Mediums, Mystics & the Occult. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell
Klass, P., (2000). The New Bogus Majestic-12 Documents. In Skeptical Inquirer, May/June 2000. Available online:
Marks, D., (2000). Psychology of the Psychic. New York: Prometheus
Randi, J., (1982). The Truth About Uri Geller. New York: Prometheus
Semitjov, E., (1979). Mellan dröm och verklighet. Askild & Kärnekull
Svahn, C., (2007). Det okända. Övernaturliga fenomen från Sverige och världen. Stockholm: Semic