Friday, February 29, 2008

UNSOLVED HISTORY - Roswell (Partial Review)

Discovery Channel - Original Air Date: 2002-2005
A.K.A. UFOs Over America

Unsolved History takes a scientific look at three UFO events: the original Kenneth Arnold sighting, the Captain Mantel crash, and Roswell.  I came in late on this broadcast, so I'll summarize the parts I didn't see based on the show's recap and my previous viewing.  Based on a recreation, the show concludes that the Arnold sighting could not have occurred at the speed or altitude that Arnold thought, and that at least part of his sighting may have been caused by reflections in the cockpit windows.  (Have you ever seen a reflection in a car window and thought it to be something in the sky?  I have.)  Sorry I don't have full details on that one.  The Captain Mantell UFO sighting and crash is recreated using a period airplane and special effects technology.  The recreation, using a model of a skyhook balloon, suggests that the captain could have easily mistaken a high-flying balloon for a disc-shaped object much closer to his craft.  The captain then climbed higher than he should have and, without a proper oxygen supply, passed out and crashed.  Finally, the show looks at the Roswell story concerning both the crash and the alien bodies, positing that over time, memories could have been distorted and perhaps combined (as suggested in the military's report).  The experiment that follows subjects unsuspecting witnesses (who believe they're on a high-tech nature walk) to a fake UFO crash site, complete with yellow tape and military guards.  Each participant is equipped with a helmet camera, so the scientists can determine what each observer actually saw and when.  The scientists then collect the data and, a month later, interview the witnesses.  And what they discover is striking: even after just a month, the witness testimonies are highly inaccurate and seem to have been heavily influenced not only by what the other witnesses initially said they saw, but by preconceived ideas of what a UFO crash site incident should be like.  Some subjects even swear to events that never happened and claim to have seen things their helmet cams show they didn't see.  The implications for Roswell -- where the incident turned from a balloon crash (after initial UFO reports) in 1947 into a UFO legend with bodies and a government cover up in 1980 (more than 30 years later) -- are obvious.  If witnesses are unreliable after 1 month, how reliable can they be after (now) 60 years?  Recent research (see the Radio Lab podcast) suggests that memories are subject to change every time we recall them.  That fact and this recreation make it seem obvious that the simplest explanation for the so-called Roswell Incident is the one offered by 1990s Air Force report: a classified balloon crash and subsequent tests with "witness" memories distorted by time.  Thus is born a legend.

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