Wednesday, July 20, 2016

A New Investigation of the 1994 Ariel School Case

It's not very often that you allegedly have 62 witnesses to a supposed UFO landing. As described in UFO Evidence,

On 14th September, 1994, a UFO streaked across the sky over Southern Africa. Two days later, something landed in a schoolyard in Ruwa, Zimbabwe, with three or four things beside it, according to journalist Cynthia Hind. This was witnessed by 62 schoolchildren, who had little or no exposure to TV or popular press accounts of UFOs. Cynthia Hind interviewed them the day after the encounter and made them draw pictures of what they had seen.

The case has since gone on to become something of a classic. The Harvard psychiatrist and UFO abductionist Dr. John Mack (1929-2004) came to Zimbabwe two months after the incident, and spent two days at the school interviewing the children, and the school staff. Interestingly, according to Headmaster Colin Mackie, while there were about 250 children playing outside at the time, only 62 claim to have seen it. However, not all 62 children were interviewed by Hind or Mack.

The object that streaked across sky the sky of southern Africa two days earlier has since been identified: it was the re-entry of the rocket that launched the Cosmos 2290 satellite. And it generated a great deal of UFO excitement. Cynthia Hind, who was editor of the journal UFO Afrinews, wrote fourteen pages about sightings from that incident.

One of the childrens' drawings of what they supposedly saw.
Relatively little critical analysis has been given to this case - until recently. The French skeptic Gilles Fernandez, who has a PhD in Cognitive Psychology, writes the French-language Blog, Sceptiques vs. les Soucoupes Volantes (Skeptics vs. the Flying Saucers). On June 26, 2016 he published the results of his latest investigation of this case. Crediting skeptic "Nab Lator" and unnamed participants of other forums, this is the culmination of work begun in 2010 ( "thanks to Nab Lator who did 95 % of the work on the sources, ufologiques resources (articles, videos, web archives) key passages, and much more"). Nab Lator did an earlier analysis of the case in 2011 on the forum Reality Uncovered, making many important observations that Fernandez builds upon. (Nab Lator was also the one who successfully de-blurred the placard next to the body of the supposed "alien" in the Roswell Slides.) Viewing one of John Mack's interviews with a child, Lator writes,
The boy is coaxed to imagine a rationale, then transpose it into the real world in the next question. A manipulation that is hidden by the editing of short sequences in the video. John Mack is caught red-handed encouraging the child to confabulate, integrate imagination into reality. JM knew that there was no verbal communication, so why did he suggested so heavily a different type of communication? What else than telepathy could it have been? The children did not make up the telepathic message, JM did. It became a "compelling" element of the story, fully validated by the famous Harvard psychiatrist.
Fernandez' article is in French, but Google provides a readable translation of it. He writes, "it is particularly interesting (and telling) to see how the protection and ecology of the planet "appears" in the testimonies of the children when Mack questioned, while this theme was not present in the narratives collected by Cynthia Hind." This strongly suggests that Mack was "leading" the children to create narratives matching Mack's own beliefs and concerns.

Cynthia Hind, and Dr. John Mack

Fernandez also notes that
Interviewing children has been the subject of numerous scientific papers and experiments, adaptations and creations of interview standard protocols, in psychology or criminology, to well avoid or minimize biases that occur when such interviews (or questionnaires) "pollute" the evidence. Cynthia Hind's interview methodology with children is very far from these standards.... Cynthia Hind and an adult (Headmaster?) debrief and discuss "other planets", "space travel", etc. while children are in the room and hear everything ...
He notes that the children were not being interviewed individually, but instead all together:
The child must be interviewed individually (again following proper procedure). Now, in the video-recorded excerpts above, it is striking to see that children are interviewed in a "line" from four to six. Sometimes other children are in the background and listen to another child being questioned. The adults talk to each other or "debrief" while the children are still very close and present ... Also, children hear what others say (including adults), and therefore are likely to influence each other. Even worse, a child who has seen very little or nothing, sees his classmates details and that this is something that greatly interests adults (verbal and non-verbal rewards). This could encourage them to participate in the "game" ...

These collective sessions have therefore enabled children to hear each other and even to copy each other, caught in a game where they see adults and a nice lady interested in the narratives. We must therefore deliver in our turn, not be excluded or unwelcome in this "game" that took place. This potential participation or having participated give a certain homogeneity to the stories and therefore reported details ...
Also, Cynthia Hind conducting the interview is constantly interrupting the children and not allowing the free narrative. We must also wonder if the fact that the interviews as drawings sessions were held in the school, this did not lead them precisely, encouraged or "biased" them to make what would be compilations of stories ... kinds of school events, where, for example, the child thinks he must absolutely answer questions, produce a drawing, the adult (or authority here) will be waiting for answers and therefore it happens.
Then, as if the problems in the interrogation technique were not bad enough, Fernandez notes
Finally, and this is rarely mentioned or noticed, there was also a session where the children were invited [by Hind] to draw on the board this time around-and not just on paper. Again, this does not back it literally "to send the child to the table"  ? And it is still in my opinion a methodological error: the child is placed as in a school exercise status, "forcing him to produce" adult authority and waiting for something (and "authority" that the reward verbally or non-verbally) ... John Mack also, two months later, again invited children to draw ...
 I wrote earlier about Emily Trim, who was one of the witnesses to the incident in 1994. She spoke to the International UFO Congress in February, and gave an extremely emotional account of her experience:
Emily Trim
She spoke on "E.T. Contacts and the Ariel School Incident." Her talk was highly emotional. She was crying as she spoke of encountering ETs floating above the ground. She said that she fell to her knees before one such being, whose face kept changing between that of an alien, and that of a lion. She has also had a conversation with a magic butterfly. The audience liked Ms. Trim's talk so much that they gave her a standing ovation.
Fernandez notes that Ms. Trim was only in Third Grade at the time of the incident. Thus she was among the youngest in the school at that time, and she is never quoted by Cynthia Hind or John Mack.