Credulous Flying Saucer ‘Expert’ Stanton T. Friedman Dead at Eighty-Four

Joe Nickell

Stanton Terry Friedman (July 29, 1934–May 13, 2019) was one of the world’s best known and most controversial flying saucer proponents.

Like some other paranormalists, Friedman would come to parlay a lackluster science career into fringe stardom. Although he constantly referred to himself as a “nuclear physicist,” he held no doctorate, having only bachelor and master of science degrees in physics (1955, 1956) followed by just fourteen years of industrial experience. Friedman (1996, 8) described himself in an unguarded moment as a onetime “itinerant nuclear physicist.”

Subsequently, Friedman began to devote himself predominantly to UFO research and lecturing. He would boast (Friedman 1996, 13), “I learned early on that the absence of evidence is not the same as evidence for absence.” That old saw is true enough; however, one is still left with absence of evidence. Like other credulous paranormalists, Friedman relied heavily on the logical fallacy of what is known as an argument from ignorance—that is, drawing a conclusion from a lack of knowledge. (“We don’t know what the UFO was; therefore, it must have been an extraterrestrial craft.”)

Again, whereas mainstream scientists begin with the evidence and let it lead to the most likely solution to a mystery, Friedman simply became another partisan who typically began with the desired answer and worked backward to the evidence—employing confirmation bias. This led him to the dubious position that “There are no good arguments to be made against the conclusion that some UFOs are intelligently controlled vehicles from off the earth” (Friedman 2001, 208). He thus seemed not to appreciate the principle of Occam’s razor (that the hypothesis with the fewest assumptions is to be preferred).

Friedman bought whole-heartedly into the illogic that belief in UFOs required. He placed quantity of supposed evidence over quality—whether it was of unidentified aerial phenomena or personal testimony of alien abduction experiences. He came to believe that “entities” might materialize and dematerialize or communicate by mental telepathy.

After New Mexico’s Roswell Incident of 1947 was discredited as a downed weather balloon rather than as a crashed alien craft, it was Friedman who later revived the case. In 1978, he looked up retired Major Jesse Marcel, who had been embarrassed by the original “saucer” fiasco. (The debris proved to be from a lost U.S. Project Mogul spy balloon.) Marcel was now quick to claim a cover-up, and Friedman was off and running with a mission. Enlisting others who offered rumors, faulty memories, and worse, Friedman promoted Roswell as a cause celebre wrapped in a conspiracy theory. He frequently used Freedom of Information requests, flouting redacted pages to claim a massive cover-up of extraterrestrial visitations.

Friedman turned his brash style—a mixture of factual distortions and caustic wit—against his skeptical challengers. He referred to them as “nasty, noisy negativists” (once conceding in a Vice video that yes, Joe Nickell was one of those he had in mind). He could be a formidable opponent because he was willing to deliberately misrepresent his adversary’s views and then show how absurd the misrepresentations were. (For instance, regarding the Flatwoods Monster case of 1952, he claimed I had proposed “a six-foot tall barn owl and a meteor crash” [Friedman 2004, xiii]. In fact, I showed that eyewitness descriptions were consistent with a barn owl perched on a limb; the meteor, seen over three states, only seemed to land—a common illusion caused by its disappearing over a hill [Nickell 2011, 156–166].)

However, his own excessive credulity was a constant problem. He was captivated by the “MJ-12” documents—sensational papers that supposedly proved a Roswellian cover-up but which were amateurish forgeries (Klass 1987; Klass 1988; Klass 1990; Nickell 2001; Nickell 2012, 42). His book on MJ-12 is dedicated “To Jesse Marcel, Sr., without whose testimony this quest would never have begun” (Friedman 1996). That is one of the truest and most revealing statements he ever made. Unfortunately, Jesse Marcel was even less trustworthy than Stan Friedman.

 


References

  • Feschino, Frank C. Jr. 2004. The Braxton County Monster. Charleston, WV: Quarrier Press.
  • Friedman, Stanton T. 1996. Top Secret/Magic. New York: Marlowe & Co.
  • ———. 2001. Stanton T. Friedman Position Statement, in Story 2001, 207–208.
  • ———. 2004.  Foreword to Feschino 2004, ix–xiv.
  • Klass, Philip J. 1987-88. The MJ-12 crashed-saucer documents. Skeptical Inquirer 12(2) (Winter): 137–146.
  • ———. 1988. The MJ-12 papers: Part 2. Skeptical Inquirer 12(3) (Spring): 279–291.
  • ———. 1990. New evidence of MJ-12 hoax. Skeptical Inquirer 14(2) (Winter): 135–140.
  • Nickell, Joe. 2001. Majestic 12 (MJ-12) documents. Entry in Story 2001, 322–324.
  • ———. 2011. Tracking the Man-Beasts. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.
  • ———. 2012. CSI Paranormal. Amherst, NY: Inquiry Press.
  • Story, Ronald D. 2001. The Encyclopedia of Extraterrestrial Encounters. New York: New American Library.

Joe Nickell

Joe Nickell, Ph.D., is Senior Research Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI) and “Investigative Files” Columnist for Skeptical Inquirer. A former stage magician, private investigator, and teacher, he is author of numerous books, including Inquest on the Shroud of Turin (1998), Pen, Ink and Evidence (2003), Unsolved History (2005) and Adventures in Paranormal Investigation (2007). He has appeared in many television documentaries and has been profiled in The New Yorker and on NBC’s Today Show. His personal website is at joenickell.com.


Stanton Terry Friedman (July 29, 1934–May 13, 2019) was one of the world’s best known and most controversial flying saucer proponents. Like some other paranormalists, Friedman would come to parlay a lackluster science career into fringe stardom. Although he constantly referred to himself as a “nuclear physicist,” he held no doctorate, having only bachelor and …

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