Conspiracy Corner – Barry Soetoro, Martian Explorer

What if it turned out that Barack Obama hadn’t lied about his place of birth put rather had deceived the world about his military experience? What if a young Barry Soetoro had travelled to Mars as part of an American Expeditionary Force in the 1980s, and had appointed one of his compatriots, Regina Dugan, as the head of DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency).

What if?

This week’s Conspiracy Corner looked at the wonderfully weird and convoluted story of America’s thirty-years of Martian occupancy, a story which, on the face of it, looks very startling and yet fits in perfectly with the tenor of the 1980s and America’s desire to compete with Soviet Russia when it came to the pseudo-sciences.

Alex Coleman, via Twitter, put me on to this story, as reported in Wired, but if you want the full details, as reported by people who believe the story to be true, Exopolitics is the place to go. It’s a very “matter of fact” report about controversial claims. It is also an account which appeals to the two leakers, Andrew D. Basiago and William B. Stillings, being notable and worthy persons who, because of their notable and worthy characteristics, are to be trusted when they make astounding claims like “We went to Mars!” and “We saw Barack Obama staring into a ravine there, acting all emo!”1

Now, I don’t know about you, but 50 year-old lawyers and 44 year-old technical geniuses who can’t directly remember going to Mars, because their memories of the events in question were wiped, do not inspire me with confidence when they make controversial claims. Indeed, given that we are dealing with recovered memories here, the most principled stand we can make is a considered agnosticism: how do these claims stack up with respect to (this is not an exhaustive list):

a) our knowledge of the sciences, especially conservation of energy, et al, when it comes to talk of teleportation and

b) the other available evidence about the American mission to Mars.

Now, I’m not a scientist (although I did live with a nuclear physicist for a time), so I won’t speak directly to the issue of whether we have the theory, let alone the technical ability, to teleport complex matter like a human being from Earth to Mars. Even if it turns out that DARPA or some other research institute has secretly perfected teleportation, we should treat any claim about specific instances of such transportation as suspicious given a lack of publicly available evidence. Yes, maybe it’s both possible and has been achieved, but if that information is not publicly available we have grounds for being sceptical about such claims (because if the theory and processes are being kept secret, and thus not available for inspection, we have no good grounds to accept such a claim).

Which leaves me with the question of “How do these claims about a mission to Mars?” fit in with the other available evidence?

The Exopolitico report ends with a list of supporting references, including mention of a detailed report about the current state of the Martian facilities, the likely number of Americans resident there and other sundry details. It turns out that there is a rather thriving conspiracy theory community surrounding claims that the human race has extraterrestial bases throughout our solar system. A lot of this evidence comes from whistleblowers, some of whom are like Stillings and Basiago, people who have recovered memories and others from former base personnel who, presumably, have contravened numerous non-disclosure agreements. Indeed, some of the whistleblowers are people like Major Ed Dames. If you’ve ever read Jon Ronson’s “The Men Who Stare At Goats” (or seen the perfectly adequate film of the same name), then you’ll know that America, in the Cold War, was perfectly happy to devote significant amounts of money and military resources to projects which, even then, were of dubious scientific value. Remote viewing, psychic interference, astral travelling: all of these things and more were being investigated seriously by the American Establishment because, well they were being investigated seriously by the Soviets, and neither side wanted to be left behind by the next psychic breakthrough2.

Ed Dames is the Edgar Mitchell of the US military: Mitchell, as you may well know, is the former NASA employee and astronaut who claims that he has been told by insiders that the Roswell incident was a alien saucer crash and that the government of the USA is hiding the fact that we have had formal relations with alien civilisations for quite some time now: he is a whistleblower with respect to claims about the space programme. Similarly, Dames claims that we’ve seen remarkable successes with remote viewing, astral travelling and the like3, and because he was a member of the armed forces, his words are taken seriously (as are Mitchell’s, given that he worked for NASA). “Dames is a decorated solider; we should respect decorated soliders; therefore we should respect what Dames has to say” is the kind of argument that seems to be driving the appeal to authority here.

A lot of conspiracy theories rest upon appeals to authorities and sometimes these authorities look legitimate. Richard Gage is an architect, so we assume he knows something about the structural engineering of skyscrapers. Edgar Mitchell worked for NASA, so when he claims that the space programme uses recovered alien technology, we are meant to say “Well, he is the kind of person who knows about this stuff…” However, appeals to authority are only useful, when formed a belief based upon what some “expert” has said, if they are testifying honestly, have appropriate qualifications and are in agreement with their peers.

Which is were the problem is, and it’s a big problem. Dames (and Mitchell and Gage, et cetera) are not in agreement with the wider community of experts. This is a reason to discount their testimony. Now, defenders of Dames (and Mitchell, et al) will say that the other experts are simply toeing the official line. So, skeptics will say “These people are irrational and believe things no other sensible person would (given the available evidence) whilst some conspiracy theorists will say “Other experts also believe this, but they refuse (or can’t) speak out!”

Now, I think there are grounds for thinking that sometimes the claim “Other experts also believe this, but they refuse (or can’t) speak out!” is true (witness the Moscow Show Trials), but without other supporting evidence (say, images of the Martian bases, a large number of independent witnesses (Stillings and Basiago are not independent witnesses, according to the Exopolitico report, as they jointly recovered their memories of the event), we simply have a case that, yes, sure, it might turn out that the Americans have a Mars base and that a young Barack Obama travelled there to quell the local wildlife, but, for the time being, scepticism is the appropriate response.

Notes

  1. Okay, so they don’t say “emo,” but their description of Obama certainly makes him out to be emo-esque in the Eighties (That’s a great band name: “Emo-esque in the Eighties).
  2. There are good grounds, I think, to believe that, if not at the very beginning, a lot of the research into psychic phenomena by both the Yanks and the Soviets was driven not by a belief it would pan out, but rather the belief that if you could just get the other side to spend a little bit more on it, then they might lag behind in real military research spending, and thus give your side the advantage. Some might claim that grant just a little too much intelligence to the minds behind the militrary establishment: I couldn’t possibly comment.
  3. Indeed, given the appearance of Dames in this story, I do wonder if the teleportation in question is actually meant to be some form of astral travelling, which, odd as this may seem, to me sounds like a much more plausible account of the “facts” at hand. I say “more plausible” because I can kind of imagine a bunch of college kids, suffering from some mass psychosis, thinking that they have astral travelled to Mars.
Matthew Dentith wrote his PhD on epistemic issues surrounding belief in conspiracy theories. He is a frequent media commentator on the weird and the wonderful, both locally and internationally. On occasion he can be caught dreaming about wax lions but, mostly, it is rumoured he works for elements of the New World Order.