Among the Fringe

I want to believe flashed across the screen of the darkened conference hall, the audience broke out in applause, and I realized I wasnt in Kansas anymore. Actually I was in Albuquerque, New Mexico, attending the F section of the 2006 Space Technology and Applications International Forum (STAIF). Tucked away in the basement of the hotels conference facilities, the F section is dedicated to frontier concepts, though the more cynically inclined might say fringe.
UFO day 2.jpgThe leader of the group goes by the cyberspace nom de guerre UFOGuy11, and for the uninitiated in the world of fringe science he is, in fact, Paul Murad. No, Murad does not invent antigravity devices in his garage in Roswell, New Mexico, but rather, he works as a scientist for the Defense Intelligence Agency. In an interview with American Antigravity (Okay, need I even explain what this organization is?), he explained why he started the F section: to end discrimination against UFO believers.
“In the early nineties, I submitted papers on topics that focused around UFOs but I never mentioned the subject in the abstract,” Murad said in the interview. “The reviewers accepted the papers on the basis of the abstracts.”
But eventually, conference organizers caught on to Murads little charade and his papers were scanned for hidden UFO references, and then summarily rejected. The F section of STAIF was thus designed to make the world safe for UFO believers, or at least to teach them how to write abstracts that wouldnt get them tagged as lunatics. On a more serious note, it appears that Murad tries to get scientists on the frontiers of science (or fringe, if you will) to behave in a scientific manner by presenting and defending their theories and experiments. And so in the F section, no idea is rejected outright as fringe, rather, it is examined and debated. Its a not bad idea, in theory.
The F section, when I attended this February, was currently in its third year. I listened as UFOGuy11 ran through the agenda, featuring presentations like Eric Daviss Experimental Concepts for Generating Negative Energy in the Laboratory (those not familiar with Davis might check out his other work, on teleportation). There was also the usual assortment of papers involving gravity waves, antigravity, and of course zero-point energy (what fringe conference would be complete without zero point?).
Now, before all the free energy enthusiasts, antigravity supporters, and UFO buffs attack me as yet another naysayer, let me say something: I really enjoy reading UFOGuy11s online dialogues with the likes of Jack Sarfatti, inventor of the God phone. I am intrigued by Sarfattis and Murads debates over wormholes and warp drive, although I occasionally find their e-mail conversations, interspersed by equations, a little tedious. I want to understand what drives these people and why they believe strange things. I truly believe the F section is a good thing, sort of.
My problem with the F group, however, is the very problem pointed out by Murad himself. Some of the experiments supposedly supporting the outer reaches of science, like antigravity, have problems when other researchers try to replicate the results. Some of these experiments are so difficult, you cant replicate them, Murad said.
Say what? Did he say you cant replicate them? Isnt that the gold standard of most science, just like they taught us in grade school? There were other problems; sometimes it was difficult to get the scientists on the frontiers to attend even friendly sessions like the F section. Some frontier scientists, it turns out, dont like having their papers critiqued. Wow, scientists not wanting to attend scientific conferences and having their ideas debated? That sounds problematic, too.
These are similar to the problems that plagued the idea of the hafnium bomb, the notional weapon based on an experiment that violated the laws of physics. The experiment allegedly supporting the hafnium bomb had problems being replicated by independent researchers. And when a panel of experts, called the JASONS, tried to question the lead experimenter about his work, he was nowhere to be found. None of that prevented the Pentagon from funding the hafnium bomb, however.
So, lets momentarily put aside the question of whether or not we want the Pentagon to fund frontier science (which I discussed yesterday). Lets ask a simpler question: Why do they believe? Thats another question I ask in my book released this week, Imaginary
Weapons: A Journey Through the Pentagons Scientific Underworld
, which chronicles the life and near death of the hafnium bomb. I contend the very statement I want to believe is exactly where the problem lies. Most scientists dont believe or disbelievethey just look at the data, relying on the tried and true (albeit imperfect) criteria of reproducibility and peer review.
Why does Murad believe? He says it himselflike Agent Mulder from the X-Files, he believes because he wants to believe. Antigravity, faster-than-light travel, and teleportation would all be great if they were real. Upstairs in the main section of the STAIF conference, scientists and engineers discussed such mundane things as, How the heck are we going to fulfill the inane drive to Mars with current technology? For many in the F section, thats just way too down-to-earth.
Theres no evidence that Murad, despite his Pentagon position, has funded any of these wild ideas, so I find the F group an interesting challenge to mainstream science, and not a threat to national security, like the hafnium bomb. Maybe some day, the scientists of the F section will even replicate a few experiments, come out of the basement, and join the rest of the conference. I wish them luck.
Sharon Weinberger

  • pedestrian

    Pass around the tin hats!

  • EGA

    So, “Most scientists dont believe or disbelievethey just look at the data, relying on the tried and true (albeit imperfect) criteria of reproducibility and peer review.”
    Having spent thirty years working with and observing scientists in their sandboxes, I assure you that this statement is the pinnacle of naivete. There is no more passionate proponent of cherished “accepted wisdom” on earth than the average scientist, nor one more bitterly hostile to the peer that dares reject his paper!

  • GVT12

    Yes, I agree with you on some accounts however, there must be a bridge between the two. wasn’t that primary intention of this F-Group?
    You remeber the definition of *insanity?
    the one that states trying to apply the same formula while expecting different results?
    While the conventional scientists apply (*insanity) to what is already “Known” the F-Group searches for the “Unknown”
    I see no harm done there.
    “Impossible simply means we haven’t done it yet”

  • bill may

    So who is making these drones that have been seen and photographed over california lately. They appear to be powered by some type of antigravity or electromagnetic drive. See earthfiles.com. a park ranger stated they were watching for fires. It seems like something like that would get some kind of media coverage. Honeywell in Albuquerque is making electric spy drones but I think they are just little electric airplanes. These things are very different. Anyone with any info should contact Linda Moulton howe at earthliles.com. She lives in Albuquerque and is very interested in this stuff. So am I Thanks, Bill

  • Jack Sarfatti

    If you want to learn about real pseudophysics that has taken over the best American universities read Lee Smolin’s “The Trouble With Physics” and Peter Woit’s “Not Even Wrong.” This is much more serious than the silly Hafnium Bomb project, though that was not good physics either.

  • michael

    I came to this site to see pictures of pot feild’s I am not ammused

    • Jack Sarfatti

      Hey Michael. Use your spell checker so you do not appear to be illiterate.

  • Dr. Quack

    I think little green men from Mars are actually fallen angels in disguise — operating among man’s subconscious, hallucinations, and visions for the purposes of subverting religion.
    Either that or maybe they are visitors from the future.
    If they are really from another planet, well, hell, I’m inclined to see that as a world of untamed savages needing to be conquered by a corps of spaceborne Jesuits and conquistadors all searching for the new gold. Maybe Palladium or something? :-) The New World’s exploration was driven by the fact that the dollar value of gold was about $8000/oz in today’s money. That’s why we killed Injuns over it. That’s why we’ll kill green men on Mars over some new high value commodity while making them go to church all the same!

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