archiv~1: SETI The Alleged Hoax

SETI The Alleged Hoax

Mitchell Jones ( mjones@jump.net )
Thu, 12 Nov 1998 09:15:30 -0600

***{Since some of you appear to have bought into the hoax theory, I have
decided to amuse myself by dissecting the SETI institute's supposed "proof"
that this is all a hoax. Their report, with my annotations, is given below,
after the line of asterisks. (The original version of their report, without
my annotations, may be found at http://www.seti-inst.edu/eqpeg.html.) Since
the names of some of the principals in this affair are in dispute, I have
tried to place quotation marks around all of them, and no sarcasm is
intended by that usage. To assist the conformists among you in following my
presentation, I would ask that you simply pretend, while you are reading my
analysis, that the authorities can't be trusted. (I know that is utterly
inconceivable to you, but please humor me.) Enjoy! --Mitchell Jones}***

********************************************************
EQ Peg: A Detection?

Many visitors to this site may be aware of the claims of
an amateur astronomer in Great Britain, Paul Dore, to have found an
extraterrestrial signal in the direction of the star system EQ Pegasi.
While some attention has been paid to this claim by the (mostly British)
media, there is every indication that the claim is either an unrecognized
detection of terrestrial interference or a deliberate prank. There is even
evidence that the postings are, in fact, not the work of the real Paul Dore
(see below).

The star system in question, a pair of M-type dwarfs
approximately 21 light-years distant, was the subject of observations by
Project Phoenix at Arecibo in September. My report of this observation (and
a similar report written by me and published by MSNBC) noted that an
interesting candidate signal was found while Jill Tarter and I were
observing EQ Peg at 1210 MHz, but that within ten minutes we had detected
the signal in the "off" position, proving that it was terrestrial
interference. The write-up was intended to give readers a feel for what
it's like to be at the telescope, and how we deal with the occasional
interesting candidate. Note that during the September run we continued to
observe EQ Peg at other frequencies between approximately 1,200 and 3,000
MHz without finding any signal. Note also that the Arecibo telescope, with
its large collecting area and low-noise amplifiers, is many thousands of
times more sensitive than the equipment used by Mr. Dore.

***{"Many thousands of times" is an exaggeration: the Arecibo dish has a
diameter of 305 meters, while the dish used by "Paul Dore" was claimed to
have a diameter of 10 meters. Thus their collecting area, and hence their
sensitivity, is roughly 930 times as great as his. Note also that this
improvement in sensitivity comes at the cost of decreased beam width. At
the 21 cm wavelength, the 305 meter dish at Arecibo has a beam width of
roughly B = 4200(21/30500) = 2.89 arcmin = .048 degrees. On the other hand,
at 21 cm "Paul Dore's" 10 meter dish has a beam width of roughly B =
4000(21/1000) = 88.2 arcmin = 1.47 degrees. That means his beam is about 31
times as wide as theirs, and, consequently, it means that when he reported
a SETI hit at the EQ Peg coordinates, his signal could have been coming
from anywhere within a .74 degree radius of EQ Peg. Thus to perform a
meaningful verification attempt, the Arecibo radiotelescope would have had
to carefully track its beam throughout that entire area, rather than merely
point at the EQ Peg coordinates and see if they got a signal. After all,
when the Aecibo telescope is pointed at the EQ Peg coordinates, they can
only detect signals that originate within .024 degrees of that location,
not the required .74 degrees! --Mitchell Jones}***

Why do SETI astronomers disbelieve the claimed detection?

To begin with, the claim was made anonymously, and by
breaking into a closed Internet group run by theSETI League. Anonymous
claims of major scientific discoveries are always suspect. Imagine if
someone calls you announcing the discovery of a cure for cancer - a result
of some importance - but refuses to divulge either his name or how he might
be contacted. How much credence should one give such claims?

***{That depends on the specifics of the situation. If the claim is one
that might subject the claimant to public ridicule, as here, then anonymity
might be well advised. Similarly, if one makes a discovery while making
unauthorized use of one's employer's equipment, as here, then anonymity
might be desirable. Finally, if the authorities cannot be trusted and want
to cover up the information, as here, then caution might be well advised.
--Mitchell Jones}***

Second, the direction of the signal, EQ Peg, is highly
coincidental to put it mildly. Of all the sky where such a signal might
originate, it seems remarkable that the claimed detection should be at the
coordinates where Project Phoenix had found interference and described it
on the Web. This either bespeaks an extremely improbable coincidence or a
lack of imagination.

***{The implied premise of the above is that when the almighty "Project
Phoenix" declares a signal to be "interference," then by damn this what it
must be! However, if one considers the possibility that members of the
almighty "Project Phoenix" may have made a gigantic mistake, then it is
hardly coincidental that "Paul Dore" found his SETI hit at the same
location! Thus there are two possibilities here: (1) Project Phoenix was
right to declare that the EQ Peg signal was due to interference, in which
case it appears highly coincidental and improbable that "Paul Dore's"
claimed SETI hit at the same location is valid. (2) Project Phoenix was
wrong to declare that the EQ Peg signal was due to interference, in which
case "Paul Dore's" SETI hit at that location is not a coincidence, and it
is highly probable that his hit is valid. --Mitchell Jones}***

Third, the original scans posted anonymously by Mr. Dore
did not have the characteristics of an on-off observation, as they were
claimed to be. When this was pointed out, new scans were posted.

***{A plausible explanation for the error was also posted--to wit: that in
his excitement he posted the same scan twice. --Mitchell Jones}***

Fourth, attempts to confirm the detection by several
members of the SETI League failed to turn up the signal. This despite the
fact that the signal-to-noise claimed for this emission was a whopping ten
thousand.

***{Yup. It was a powerful signal, one that did not require a highly
sensitive radiotelescope to detect. Hence the use of a large radiotelescope
to detect it was disadvantageous: such telescopes would be forced to
laboriously track their narrow beams throughout the entire area covered by
"Paul Dore's" small, wide beam instrument, in order to make a serious
effort to verify his findings. --Mitchell Jones}***

On November 2, Dr. Ray Norris used the Australia Telescope Compact Array
and the Mopra telescope (also in Australia) to observe EQ Peg. These
telescopes consist of antenna elements 22 m in diameter. Norris failed to
find the claimed signal with both instruments, despite having thirty times
the sensitivity of Mr. Dore. A similar effort, conducted by Dr. John
Whiteoak, using the Australian 22 m Mopra radio telescope also failed to
find the signal, as did drift scans made using the Planetary Society's
Project BETA telescope in Massachusetts. None of the professional efforts
made to find this reputed signal have confirmed its existence.

***{And all of them, according to their own published reports, simply
pointed their narrow beam instruments at the EQ Peg coordinates and checked
for a signal. *None of them did the laborious search through "Paul Dore's"
beam area which would have been required, if they had been serious in their
efforts to find the alleged transmissions.* Hence their claims that the
signal wasn't there are utterly worthless. --Mitchell Jones}***

Fifth, the spectral plots posted on the Web for October
22 and October 23 by Mr. Dore were identical, except for a vertical shift
of a few dozen pixels! When this was pointed out, the amateur astronomer
claimed that he had, in haste, mistakenly posted the same spectrum twice.
However, how does this account for the shift of the data within the plot?
Were the manipulations necessary to accomplish this shift also a mistake?
According to those who had access to the original postings, the reason
offered by Mr. Dore for this strange duplication of plots changed with
time.

***{This is an elaboration on the objection stated earlier. Here the
attempt is made to disprove "Paul Dore's" claim that he had simply made an
error. The argument is that the duplicated scans were, after all, not quite
the same. The idea is that some sort of hanky panky must have been going on
to account for the pixel shift in the otherwise identical scans. I would
respond that this is an absurd premise. Not knowing the instruments that
were used, many innocent explanations are possible. For example, "Paul
Dore" may have been using an analog display which lacked a digital output,
and may have used a scope camera to capture the scan. How, then, would he
digitize the photo? Simple: he would lay it face down on a flatbed color
scanner, and scan it into his computer. And if, perchance, he adjusted the
picture a bit and scanned it in again, the result could be two digitized
photos of the same image, that differed by merely a pixel. Once those two
images were in his system, it would be a simple matter to inadvertently
send the same image twice, yet have the second image be one pixel off from
the first. And, of course, there are a hundred other ways this could have
happened, none of which imply dishonesty on "Paul Dore's" part. --Mitchell
Jones}***

Sixth, the subsequent confirmation detections claimed by
amateur astronomers in Guernsey and in Japan find the signal at different
frequencies.

***{Yes, and they also noted that the frequency of the carrier transmission
shifted while they were in the act of monitoring it. In a 19 minute period,
for example, "Jay Oka" reported that the signal shifted by 200 Hz.
--Mitchell Jones}***

Remember: the microwave bands are cluttered with terrestrial interference,
and finding signals in these bands is no trick. While observing at Arecibo,
we typically had dozens of strong interference signals in every 20 MHz
chunk of the microwave spectrum.

***{Utterly irrelevant. "Paul Dore" explicitly reported repeatedly moving
his beam away from the coordinates, and each time he did so, the signal
went away. Moreover, since "K.F. Benton" on Guernsey and "Jay Oka" in Tokyo
both read "Paul Dore's" explanation of what he had done before attempting
to replicate his finding, it is virtually a certainty that they performed
this test also, before reporting that they had also found his signal.
--Mitchell Jones}***

Seventh, although Mr. Dore has apparently said that he
has confirmation observations of his signal from the Effelsberg 100 m radio
telescope in Germany, this does not appear to be true.

***{"Paul Dore" did not name the observatory where the replication had been
made. He merely noted that it was not Jodrell Bank. The Efflesberg
inference was drawn by a reporter in a wire story that came later.
--Mitchell Jones}***

An e-mail from Dr. Rolf Schwartz, of the Max Planck Institute for Radio
Astronomy, states that "the circulated message that the 100 m telescope of
the Institute is involved in observations to confirm a SETI signal is
WRONG!!!! The Institute is not involved in any SETI projectsŠ and is not
invited to the [press] conference in London."

***{The explanation mark is sometimes referred to as "the mark of
ignorance." Given the fact that "Paul Dore" never identified the
observatory where the replication had occurred, and the use of *four*
(count em) exclamation marks in the above, that observation appears to be
on target. --Mitchell Jones}***

Eighth, note that Mr. Dore has claimed that the press
conference alluded to in Dr. Schwartz's message would be held on Wednesday,
4 November. [Apparently someone was offering transportation, as he stated
that a mysterious black sedan was parked near his house and another was
following him to work. However, the posted photos of the two sedans were
both the same, and parked on the wrong side of the road for Britain.]

***{The initial photos were the same, but it is absurd to suppose that this
was anything other than an error made by the website manager--which is
what, in fact, he explicitly claimed that it was, when he corrected the
error by posting the second picture. As for the cars being on the wrong
side of the road, that is absurd: the cars were parked by the side of the
road, not driving in traffic. If, as "Paul Dore" claimed, the cars were
following him in his daily activities, and staking him out wherever he
stopped, is it not obvious that they would park at locations which would
give them a good observational position, regardless of which side of the
road that might be? --Mitchell Jones}***

On November 3rd, the press conference was abruptly
canceled. Mr. Dore states that the reason for this was that he had a visit
from national security agents informing him that he had discovered a
"classified intelligence satellite." Note that detecting satellites,
whether secret or not, is easy: anyone with an antenna can do so. It is the
encrypted information such satellites send back to Earth that is of
importance, not the carrier signal that Mr. Dore now claims was what he
detected. This story, like all previous ones, hardly makes sense.

***{The implied assumption here is that the authorities wouldn't lie and
that their tale of a classified military deep space probe is correct. But
let's suppose, for a moment, that they would lie, and that what they told
"Paul Dore" is merely a cover story designed to mask the real truth.

Suppose, for example, that a gigantic starship is parked very close to our
sun, that it just happened to be near the EQ Peg coordinates on Oct. 22,
and that "Paul Dore" stumbled on a carrier wave coming from it at the 21 cm
wavelength. Note the eerie plausibility of this choice of wavelength: the
sun is a major source of RF noise on a vast number of bands, but is
relatively clear on 21 cm because hydrogen ions in the solar atmosphere
absorb at that frequency. Thus if you were on a gigantic starship, and
you were near the sun, and you wanted to communicate with confederates on
Earth via radio, what frequency would you choose? Would you, perhaps, use
21 cm? [To see the SOHO photographs of this apparent starship, check out
http://www.eagle-net.org/IWP/suncru.htm while you still can.]

Going further, suppose that the authorities on Earth don't want us peons to
know about the existence of ET's. There is precedence for this in history.
For example, when westerners were exploring Africa and South America in the
19th century, there were many instances where the tribal authorities
attempted to prevent their people from finding out about the existence of
westerners, and there was great animosity toward westerners by the ruling
classes. A shaman, for example, is used to uttering his mumbo-jumbo and
getting great respect from his fellow tribesmen, due to his arcane
"knowledge." But his credibility instantly crashes when westerners arrive
with their superior technology. They display technological "magic" that
obviously works (the rifle, or "thunder stick," which kills from afar; the
camera, which captures a person's image; and on and on). The "magic" of the
shaman, on the other hand, is obviously of a lesser sort. And the same is
true of the chiefs and their minions, who are used to living the easy life
in return for "protecting" the people from various dangers, real or
imagined. The whole game goes crashing to the ground as soon as the people
realize that the outsiders have superior knowledge, because at that point
the chiefs and the witch doctors lose their credibility. A similar example
occured in Japan, where the shoguns kept their people in ignorance of the
west for as long as they could, until finally Commodore Perry sailed a
squadron of "black ships" into Tokyo Bay in 1853, and rendered the policy
of seclusion impossible to maintain. And a more recent example, of course,
is the former Soviet Union, which fell apart not very long after the
development of the internet rendered it impossible for the authorities to
maintain their cover-up of the economic superiority of the West. Is it not
possible that the parasitic elites which are now riding on our backs, in
every nation on this earth, fear the loss of credibility which they will
suffer if the existence of ET's, with their superior technological "magic,"
is acknowledged?

If we open our minds to that possibility, then we are free to interpret
what the men in black said to "Paul Dore" as a disinformation cover
story--a lie intended to mask the existence of ET's--and the SETI
institute's claim that it "hardly makes sense" ceases to undercut "Paul
Dore's" story, and begins to support it instead!

Bottom line: if you seriously consider the possibility that the authorities
are lying, the hoax theory quickly begins to come apart at the seams.

--Mitchell Jones}***

Ninth, also on November 3rd, an anonymous hacker claimed
to have "broken into the SETI Institute's computer" and retrieved spectra
showing a signal from the direction of EQ Peg. No such break-in occurred,
and in fact the stored data are not even on the machines cited. Indeed, the
posted signals are clearly faked. They have been concocted by cutting and
pasting plots of test signals that have been on our site for many months.
You might wish to compare a blow-up of the graphic on our site with the
claimed "break-in" data plot for EQ Peg. What started as an announcement of
potentially great scientific importance has degenerated into puerile
pranksterism.

The top graphic is taken from our Web site and shows a
test signal. The lower is part of the spectrum supposedly stolen from our
computers and purported to be data for EQ Peg. You can see that the lower
graphic has been fabricated from the upper by cutting and pasting two
numbers taken from the original. Readers with sharp eyes or the ability to
enlarge graphics will also note that the pasted "2" has a one pixel
vertical shift. The other data plot posted by the hoaxers is similarly an
edited version of another graphic from our site.

***{The story about the anonymous hacker has nothing to do with "Paul
Dore", since "Paul Dore" did not make those claims, and never commented on
them. (It is even possible that the anonymous hacker was an NSA black ops
guy on a mission of disinformation.) In any case, this is an irrelevant red
herring, and I am not going to chase it. --Mitchell Jones}***

Tenth, on November 4th, all the postings of data and
descriptions of the claimed detection on the GeoCities sites were removed,
and replaced by a National Security Agency emblem.

***{Yup. And if you are willing to distrust the authorities, the most
plausible interpretation is obvious: "Paul Dore's" post revealing the visit
by the men in black, and their threats and intimidation, might be an
attempt on his part to save face without violating the letter of the
instructions he had been given by the three men. If so, then it obviously
would have had the effect of infuriating them. Result: the same three black
ops goons would have paid him a second visit after he posted the message
talking about their first visit, and would have let him know in no
uncertain terms that his life was toast if he did not thereafter deny all
knowledge of the affair. They could very well have threatened to kill his
entire family if he continued to resist. Next, by this theory, the men in
black would go to the guy who was posting the SETI hit info on the
geocities website and tell him essentially the same thing they told "Paul
Dore"--e.g.: "Stop posting this stuff, or we will come down on you hard."
Result: he too complied with the letter of their instructions, but posted
the NSA logo on his web pages, to suggest why he had pulled the story, for
those who were astute enough to take the hint. --Mitchell Jones}***

Both Dr. Paul Shuch and Michael Theroux say that they have been in e-mail
contact with a Mr. Dore in Britain, who states that he has had nothing to
do with any of the above events, and hadn't even heard about them until
they were pointed out to him.

***{Strong evidence is now emerging which seems to suggest that "Paul Dore"
may have lied when he said that he was not the source of the claimed SETI
hit. For details, see the story posted at www.artbell.com. --Mitchell
Jones}***

He claims that his personal Web site was "ripped off" to construct a false
identity. He also maintains that he no longer works for the engineering
firm so widely advertised as his place of employment. He is not an amateur
astronomer. The Mr. Dore of this story appears to be a fabrication of the
hoaxer.

***{Distrust of the authorities brings to mind the possibility that "Paul
Dore" is saying what he is saying now under duress. As for the fact that he
no longer works for Siemens Plessey Systems, the earlier incarnation of
"Paul Dore" never claimed to do so. That was an inference drawn by others,
very much like the inference that the confirmation had come from
Efflesberg. --Mitchell Jones}***

In summary, there is no reason to believe that a true,
extraterrestrial signal has yet been detected.

***{Yes there is. We have claimed SETI hits by three amateurs: "Paul Dore",
"K.F. Benton", and "Jay Oka", all at the same coordinates and basically at
the same frequency. We have the SOHO photos showing an object that is
obviously not Saturn, Mars, or a comet, which in fact looks like an
enormous starship, visible on images taken at infrared, optical, and
ultraviolet frequencies. We have the fact that the line of sight to EQ Peg
on Oct. 22 passes suspiciously close to the position of said object. We
have the tantalizing logical insight that, if a starship were in fact at
that location and wanted to communicate with confederates on Earth, it
would be very reasonable to select a wavelength of 21 centimeters, because
of the overwhelming interference virtually everywhere else. We have the
literally thousands of claims, by members of the general public all over
the world, to have seen vessels in their skies which clearly did not come
from Earth. We have thousands of photographs of same, plus abduction
stories, descriptions of aliens based on claimed sightings, and endless
tales of the efforts of "men in black" to suppress this information. And we
have our own history, clearly demonstrating the fact that parasitic elites
feel threatened when they encounter beings with technology vastly advanced
beyond their own, because when the people find that to be the fact, the
parasitic elite loses credibility. All in all, I would say that a strong
case can be made that this reported SETI hit is *not* a hoax. --Mitchell
Jones}***

Dr. Nathan Cohen, of Boston University, has looked carefully at the posted
signals, and has stated publicly his opinion that they constitute a hoax.
The president of the SETI League, Dr. Paul Shuch, has published a press
release offering a similar view. You can also read a popular account of the
event by Alan Boyle at MSNBC and a detailed analysis of the posted spectra
by Michael Theroux.

Coda

It might interest readers to note that the announcement
of a real SETI signal would proceed quite differently than what's
transpired here.

***{Nope. As demonstrated above, it might very well proceed *exactly* as
what has transpired here. --MJ}***

First and foremost, there would be no anonymity.

***{Only if we falsely assume that there is no reason to fear character
assasination or the men in black. --MJ}***

Rather, there would be ample descriptions of the signal bandwidth,
frequency and drift. There would be immediate confirmation efforts at major
radio observatories

***{Yup: non-serious "efforts" that made no attempt to examine the full
area of the source beam. --MJ}***

, and no need for ex-post-facto explanations of contradictory postings.

***{That's right: members of the establishment are superhuman, and make no
mistakes. :-) --MJ}***

There would also be no obvious fakery, as has occurred several times for
this supposed "detection."

***{There is clearly fakery going on, but the source of the fakery is
anything but obvious. To those who distrust the authorities, the true hoax
may be the claim that "Paul Dore's" SETI hit is a hoax, and in that case
the most likely perpetrator would be the government itself. --MJ}***

Science is, by nature, an open endeavor.

***{Not in a world where educational credentials and science funding are a
virtual monopoly of the state, and where the state has virtually unlimited
power to suppress scientific conclusions which it does not like. --MJ}***

If a researcher believes he or she has made a significant discovery, the
information about what has been found, together with all the details of the
experiment, are made public, and ultimately published in refereed journals.

***{Yup. And the "referees" (censors) are invariably people who obtained
their credentials by memorizing politically correct rubbish at state
"educational" institutions, thereby demonstrating their willingness to
believe what the state wants them to believe and do what it wants them to
do. --MJ}***

Any discovery worth making is worth verifying.

***{Unless the government decides that it is worth covering up. --MJ}***

Consequently, scientists depend on the rapid and critical scrutiny of other
researchers to either verify their discovery or to dispute it. This applies
to amateurs as well as professionals: amateur astronomers quickly make
their findings (such as a new comet) known. They do not hide the light of
discovery behind curtains of secrecy. Such tactics, reminiscent of medieval
sorcerers, should always be regarded with a good dose of healthy
skepticism.

***{Noble words, considering that the government is in the process, as we
speak, of bringing the hammer down on astronomers who go public with their
observations without first submitting them through proper channels and
obtaining government approval. The excuse they are using is the near earth
asteroid which, a few weeks ago, was momentarily thought might hit the
earth in 2028 and which, a bit later, was determined to miss the earth by
600,000 miles. "We can't have that," they say in effect. "Might cause a
panic. Therefore in the future you guys will have to wear muzzles and clear
your stuff through us." Thus, by such excuses, the lid is being clamped
down tight on free speech among astronomers. But why? Those who are willing
to distrust the government may be forgiven, I think, if they suspect that
the real fear is that some astronomer is going to take a photograph of a
certain gigantic starship one day, if it should ever move itself far enough
away from the sun to permit that, and run shouting his head off to the
press. --Mitchell Jones}***

Are the extraterrestrials out there? Needless to say,
researchers at the SETI Institute certainly believe so. Do we wish to find
evidence of their existence? Of course.

***{But not as much as you want to believe that you can trust the
government. --MJ}***

Has someone already done that? We don't think so.

***{That's because you believe you can trust the government. Given that
premise, the only theory that fits is the one that declares the "Paul Dore"
affair to be a hoax. However, when that premise is dislodged, the matter
takes on a quite different appearance. --Mitchell Jones}***

Dr. Seth Shostak

***{This fellow is hardly an unbiased observer, since he is a member of the
group who declared that the apparent SETI hit on Sep. 17 at Arecibo was
just "interference." As such, they all stand to look like fools if it turns
out that the signal found by "Paul Dore" was real. --Mitchell Jones}***

SETI Institute
********************************************************

***{The bottom line on this matter is simple: the assessment of this issue
is a matter of judgment, and depends on the kind of person who looks at the
data, rather than merely on the conclusions of linear logic. Most
importantly, it depends on a person's attitudes toward government, and on
his willingness to distrust the statements of persons in positions of
authority. For conformists, who are locked into the position that the
authorities would not lie, only one conclusion is possible. For heretics
who are willing to doubt the authorities, on the other hand, a very strong
case can be made that the SETI hit of "Paul Dore" was real, and that a
gigantic alien starship is parked near our sun at this very moment.

Those who think the above analysis may be on target are advised to copy
this message and spread it to the four winds while you can. You should also
copy every photo on the suncruiser site and disseminate them worldwide,
before that site is forced to shut down. If the heretical interpretation of
this situation is correct, this is the most important story in human
history, and the attempted coverup should not be permitted to succeed.

For those who notice that I have qualified my statements throughout and
wonder whether I have a strong belief one way or the other in this matter,
the answer is that I tend to question the statements of authorities, and
hence am very open to the heretical view of this situation. My main intent
in dissecting this issue, however, is to stir the pot. If no one argues for
the heretical interpretation, people will cease to think about this issue,
and will settle back into their preconceived positions. If that happens,
there is a possibility that one of the most important discoveries in human
history--contact with an exterrestrial civilization--could be simply left
by the wayside. Thus if it is possible to prove this issue one way or the
other, I would like to force the matter to that point of final resolution.

--Mitchell Jones}***