14 August 2011


I can't let Northern Echoes go by without seconding John Rimmer's thoughts on Hilary Evans, such a sad loss. I can't say that I knew him personally, we met on perhaps three or four occasions (a visit with John to the MEPL back in 1979, a couple of conferences in the 1980s and I think one of the UnConventions) but I can testify to his willingness to help, sending me free of charge a photocopy of a rare booklet in his possession when I was doing my revisionist history of abductions back in the early 1990s. One of Hilary's main contributions was in international relations, and if anyone wanted to memorialise him, perhaps a book series in his name giving English language translations of foreign titles on the UFO, paranormal and Fortean fields would be a suitable project. There is lots of good stuff out there not available to us monoglot anglophones.

A recent comment on the blog asks me if I consider myself a Fortean. As explained, I avoid labels, especially those which suggest that you should think in particular ways. However I would be happy to thought of as Fortean in the open-minded but critical tradition that Hilary was part of. Another excellent Fortean is Dr Mike Dash whose blog formerly on the Charles Fort Institute website is now being featured in a blog set up by the prestigious Smithsonian Institute. Here Mike will be merging his Fortean and historical blog on the Smithsonian's new blogsite 'Past Imperfect': (Link HERE). This is all about various aspects of what one might call "hidden history". Mike's first two contributions include a deconstruction of a strange time slip story and an account of the last of the Cornish packmen. His two co-contributers Kate Abbot and Gilbert King also provide pieces with more than a whiff of Forteanism. Highly recommended.

A phrase which keeps cropping up and which causes a lot of controversy is "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" as there is no agreement as to what the extraordinary means in either case. One interesting way of thinking about this is to try and quantify it. I suggest as a marker the time taken to run a mile, expressed in seconds. A good club athlete can easily run the mile in 5 minutes, 300 seconds, so 300 can be set to represent everyday reality. Just over 4 minutes at 250 seconds represents rarer but well established events; 225 seconds represent very rare events, the current world record of 223.13 seconds set by Hicham El Guerroy in 1999 represents the margins of the currently possible, well documented events but perhaps so rare they will never be detected again.

We now have some sort of reverse ladder of anomaly, so readers should think about what sort of evidence they would require for 220 seconds which would be theoretically possible but not yet detected. Perhaps the endorsement of the appropriate sporting authorities. What about 210, 200, 180 seconds - the three minute mile, representing something which would really challenge how we view the world but might not totally overthrown everything we know. Such a claim might need multiple independent timings, several independent films, a large audience etc. What about 150, 120, 100, 60, 30, 10 seconds? Is there a point at which no amount of evidence could convince you, because the claim is so extraordinary that almost any other explanation - massive conspiracy, mass hypnosis or whatever - is a lesser claim. (To clarify I am not talking about what might be possible in some remote cyborgian future but a claim made now in the run up to the London Olympics).

A scale like this also allows us to start thinking about what scale various anomalies might lie on. For myself, offhand I would put uncatalogued natural phenomena for some UFO reports and orang pendek both around 220, Bigfoot perhaps 200, telepathy about 180, precognition and microPK about 170, some UFOs being ET craft about 170, macroPK about 150, life after death/reincarnation about 140, alien abductions about 100 and message writing and mince pie eating poltergeists down at about 60 (rather below humans turning into bears!).

Everyone can have a go at this and disagree to their hearts content about where in the scale where various things lie, but "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" means basically the evidence that would be needed to validate the claim that someone has run the mile in three minutes.

1 comment:

  1. When Dr Roger Bannister first broke the 4-minute mile he opined that however much human achievements improved nobody would ever run it in 3 and a half minutes. This equates to your number 210 (seconds). One very good reason he is right (but a reason he probably never thought of) is that the mile would soon become an obsolete distance. Does anyone run a mile nowadays? Once in a very blue moon, I suppose.

    But I agree this was not the point of your 'extraordinary claims' article.