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How Rich UFO Followers Helped Gasoline Fringe Beliefs

by Green Zak
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In a 2017 interview with 60 Minutes, Robert Bigelow didn’t hesitate when he was requested if area aliens had ever visited Earth. “There has been and is an present presence, an ET presence,” stated Bigelow, a Las Vegas-based actual property mogul and founding father of Bigelow Aerospace, an organization NASA had contracted to construct inflatable area station habitats. Bigelow was so sure, he indicated, as a result of he had “spent tens of millions and tens of millions and tens of millions” of {dollars} trying to find UFO proof. “I most likely spent extra as a person than anyone else within the United States has ever spent on this topic.”

He’s proper. Since the early Nineties, Bigelow has bankrolled a voluminous stream of pseudoscience on modern-day UFO lore—investigating every thing from crop circles and cattle mutilations to alien abductions and UFO crashes. Indeed, in the event you title a UFO rabbit gap, it’s a superb guess the 79-year-old tycoon has flushed his riches down it.

But it’s additionally a superb guess that Bigelow would see this otherwise. After all, each the media and Congress are actually solemnly discussing a supposed huge UFO cover-up by the U.S. authorities. There’s even proposed laws to open the X-Files! “The American public has a proper to find out about applied sciences of unknown origins, non-human intelligence, and unexplainable phenomena,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York harrumphed in a current public assertion.

This legacy of plutocrat-backed fringe science comes as political partisanship, company propaganda, and conspiracy mongering continues to sow mistrust in science. One lawmaker, Representative Tim Burchett of Tennessee, lately stated, “The satan’s been in our means,” claiming a “cover-up” of UFO experiences by army and intelligence companies.

Such discuss was as soon as solely the area of Internet fever swamps and late-night conspiracy- themed radio exhibits. Now it’s a part of the political mainstream. This doesn’t occur with out Bigelow (and different rich eccentrics) greasing the best way with their fats wallets. For instance, Laurance Rockefeller was undoubtedly probably the most distinguished UFO benefactor within the Nineties. The rich inheritor financed quite a few UFO panels, conferences and book-length experiences that stored alien craft within the public discourse.

From a scientific standpoint, all this cash appears wasted on a zany quest that’s akin to the seek for Bigfoot or Atlantis. The identical could be stated of Harvard astrophysicist Avi Loeb’s current hunt for proof of extraterrestrial life off the coast of Papua New Guinea, which price $150,000 and was funded by cryptocurrency mogul Charles Hoskinson. Loeb’s polarizing claims of discovering traces of alien know-how and of getting a extra open-minded and dispassionate strategy to fringe science have garnered a really staggering quantity of media protection, however his friends within the scientific neighborhood are rolling their eyes.

It’s the newest stunt by Loeb, who additionally helms a controversial UFO venture and beforehand drew the ire of his colleagues with outlandish claims concerning the supposedly synthetic nature of an (admittedly bizarre) interstellar comet. Steve Desch, an astrophysicist at Arizona State University, lately instructed the New York Times: “What the general public is seeing in Loeb will not be how science works. And they shouldn’t go away pondering that.”

True, however as communication researcher Alexandre Schiele wrote in a 2020 paper for the Journal of Science Communication, what folks see about “science” is often on TV, notably by way of sensationalist programming on cable channels  corresponding to Discovery and the misnamed History Channel, the place viewers are “bombarded with aliens, ghosts, cryptids and miracles as if they’re indeniable information.”

Unfortunately, a lot of this nonsense has, at one level or one other, been masked with an aura of legitimacy by prestigious establishments. For instance, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology lent its imprimatur to an alien abduction convention within the early Nineties—which Robert Bigelow helped pay for. A beneficiant benefactor to academia, Bigelow additionally gave tens of millions to the University of Nevada through the Nineties to check supposed psychic phenomena, corresponding to telepathy, clairvoyance and the potential of life after demise. (In current years, the billionaire has turned his consideration and money largely to the afterlife.)

Indeed, there’s a lengthy custom of fringe science at prestigious universities. The doubtful subject of parapsychology, as an example, owes its existence to the many years of pseudoscholarship churned out at Duke and Harvard University–and financed by rich personal patrons. Some of our most illustrious thinkers, such because the eminent psychologist William James, have fallen for it. Belief in Martians sprang largely from a rich novice astronomer, Percival Lowell, who constructed the observatory that also bears his title. A University of Arizona psychology professor attracted criticism in recent times for taking cash from the Pioneer Fund, based in 1937 by textiles magnate to promote the racist science of eugenics.

Eventually, this wacky stuff, be it ESP or UFOs,makes its means to Congress and the Pentagon. That’s how we find yourself with folks in government-funded packages who declare they will bend spoons with their minds or stroll by means of partitions. And that’s how we find yourself with the Department of Defense giving Robert Bigelow $22 million from 2008 to 2011 to examine UFOs, werewolves and poltergeists (critically) on a Utah ranch.

This can be the identical ranch Bigelow had already purchased after studying a story in a Utah newspaper about how the property was teeming with UFOs, together with one “large ship the scale of a number of soccer fields.”

Does this sound acquainted? If so, that’s as a result of in current weeks, a lot of comparable hard-to-fathom, evidence-free UFO claims have echoed with out problem by means of the halls of Congress and throughout tv networks. Among probably the most eyebrow elevating: tales of recovered saucers, hidden alien our bodies, and a soccer subject–sized UFO noticed over a army base.

Guess what: You can draw a line from these outlandish assertions to the huge repository of so-called research as soon as funded by Bigelow. In truth, among the folks he contracted to put in writing them, corresponding to astrophysicist Eric Davis, have acknowledged talking (behind closed doorways) with Congress.

To say UFO enthusiasm has swept Washington D.C. will not be an overstatement. In current years, there have been three Congressional hearings and two Pentagon activity forces. NASA is about to ship its personal verdict after a year-long research. As Timothy Noah writes within the New Republic, “UFOs are quick turning into the most-studied matter in American governance.”

Perhaps, however Robert Bigelow will let you know that no person has studied the subject greater than him. He could be proper. Whatever the newest UFO whistleblower says and no matter Congress turns up, you possibly can guess that Bigelow already paid for it.

This is an opinion and evaluation article, and the views expressed by the writer or authors are usually not essentially these of Scientific American.

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