Betteridge’s law of headlines states: “Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no.” In the name of falsification, I will argue that the correct response to the headline of the current article is, in fact, not a blunt no. It is instead almost definitely no.
At the time of writing, there have been lots of headlines over the previous couple of weeks referring to the claim by Haim Eshed, former head of Israel’s Defense Ministry’s space directorate, that there is an agreement between a “galactic federation” of aliens and the US government to work together performing scientific experiments. He further claims that outgoing President Donald Trump wanted to reveal this fact to the world but was persuaded not to do so in order to prevent mass hysteria. I am sure that we can all agree that stirring up mass hysteria is the very last thing that President Trump would ever want to do. Eshed further claims that there is an underground base on Mars where there are already both aliens and American astronauts (although it is not clear from the reports I have seen whether or not Eshed believes that the moon landings were faked).
Inevitably, such sensational claims were reported widely including by NBC, the Independent, the Express, the Daily Mail, and many other daily newspapers. If such news outlets had taken these revelations seriously one might have expected the story to be the most prominently featured for at least a day even in the face of competition from the pandemic, Brexit, and the US election. Clearly, the claims were not being taken very seriously and the tone of the reporting reflected that. The reports typically included the following statement from a NASA spokesperson: “Although we have yet to find signs of extraterrestrial life, NASA is exploring the solar system and beyond to help us answer fundamental questions, including whether we are alone in the universe.”
I must confess that I had not really given the story much thought until I was contacted by journalist Matt Rozsa who was writing a feature about the psychological factors that might lie behind such “outrageous claims” for Salon. This caused me to reflect on the question of how one should react to such sensational claims from such an ostensibly authoritative source. Here is my reply to Matt:
Without further information, it is impossible to know what psychological factors might underlie these claims from Haim Eshed. There are three possibilities. The first is that he is telling the truth. Given the outlandish nature of his claims and the lack of any direct evidence to support them, this strikes me as extremely unlikely.
Secondly, he may believe the claims he is making. If this is the case, I would want to know his reasons. Has he seen any actual evidence or is he basing his claims on reports from others? If the former, is the evidence convincing? If the latter, are these others credible? What are they basing their claims upon? Is it possible that Eshed is delusional? This certainly is a possibility.
Thirdly, Eshed may be knowingly lying. If so, what are his motivations? It is noteworthy that he has a book to promote and he has already garnered much attention by his claims. He will no doubt become the latest ‘darling’ of the UFO community and be invited to address UFO conferences, not to mention appearances on talk-shows, and so on. Maybe it’s all a practical joke and he is laughing all the way to the bank?
The problem here is that these claims will fuel conspiracy beliefs of all kinds. After all, if the US government are lying about this, what else are they lying about? Maybe the COVID vaccination programme really is just a cover to inject us all with microchips to control our minds? This way lies collective madness – and thousands more unnecessary deaths.
If Eshed has any solid proof to support his claims, he should tell the world what it is. Until he does so, we should feel no more obliged to believe him than we would any other conspiracy theorist.
As I argued in a previous article, an important part of proper scepticism is to always be open to the possibility that you may be wrong. However, another important principle for sceptics is that the burden of proof for any claim always lies with the claimant. If Eshed actually has any convincing evidence to support his claims, he should, as stated, present us with it. Since the initial ripple of media interest in his claims, I have been looking out for further reports of him actually presenting such evidence. So far, I have only spotted an article in which Robbie Williams expresses his delight that Eshed has “confirmed” that the Galactic Federation exists. I guess it’s a case of “Watch this space…”.
Of course, if Eshed surprises me and actually does present proof of his claims before this article goes live, I for one will be absolutely delighted. From what he says, they appear to be a co-operative bunch rather than aggressive space-invader types and I am sure we could learn a lot from them.