Welcome to the Summer 2012 Weird World column and the latest round-up of news and views on the unexplained, the weird and the wonderful.
MoD Releases More UFO Files
On 12th July the Ministry of Defence released yet more UFO files. This is the ninth batch of files to be released and is part of a massive program to declassify and release the entire archive of UFO files - hundreds of files; tens of thousands of pages of documents. The release program began in 2008 and is expected to be complete in late 2012 or early 2013.
The files contain the usual mixture of policy documents, sighting reports, photos, sketches and papers discussing how best to handle the subject with Parliament, the media and the public. This new batch of files contains numerous documents showing how MoD struggled to cope with the introduction of the Freedom of Information Act, as they were bombarded by UFO-related requests from hundreds of 'ufologists' - some of whose behaviour bordered on the obsessive (it's interesting to note that alleged computer hacker Gary McKinnon, who has Asperger's syndrome, cited obsession with UFOs as the reason for his actions). It was the fact that MoD received so many FOI requests about UFOs that led directly to the Department's decision to proactively release the files.
The files also show the tension that existed between the secretive Defence Intelligence Staff (DIS) and Directorate Air Staff (DAS) - the division that had the lead for UFO policy and investigations. This latter division, after my stint in charge of the UFO project (1991 - 1994), had reverted to the old policy of dismissing UFOs as being of "no defence significance" and downplaying the extent of the Department's interest and involvement. This worked, pre-FOI, but once UFO files started being released, the line that had been fed to Parliament, the media and the public ("we're not interested in UFOs and we don't investigate UFO sightings") was shown to be a falsehood. In some cases, DAS staff seemed unaware of some of the UFO-related documents in their own archive. Matters came to a head over a secret study called Project Condign. My DIS opposite number and I had planned this study, but after I was promoted and left the UFO project, the relationship between the DIS and DAS broke down, with the result that the study was carried out without the knowledge of anyone in DAS.
I worked on these files and have been involved in the release program. I've also spoken and written widely about this story in my capacity as a broadcaster and journalist. However, because I now live and work in America, I wasn't able to do quite as many media interviews as with previous releases. Click on nickpope.net for more details of the file release.
Nick Pope announces the release of the MoD UFO files to the world's media
Alien Invasion War Plan
To mark the release of the alien invasion-themed Sony PlayStation game Resistance: Burning Skies, out exclusively on the PlayStation Vita, Sony asked me to produce a war plan detailing how the British Government would respond to a real-life alien invasion. The war plan was drawn up by combining material from MoD's UFO project with highly-classified war planning documents released to the ongoing Iraq Inquiry. In this way, while the alien invasion war plan is speculative, it's as close as it's possible to get to the sort of document the MoD would produce if we really were facing an alien invasion. I've taken part in PR campaigns for a number of extraterrestrial-themed sci-fi movies, including Super 8, Battle: Los Angeles, The X-Files: I Want to Believe, The Day the Earth Stood Still and War of the Worlds. He has also been involved (as consultant and/or contributor) in a number of TV documentaries on the subject, including the National Geographic show When Aliens Attack. Click on nickpope.net to read the war plan, one or two stories down.
As a sci-fi novelist myself, and as someone who comments in the media on sci-fi and fringe science, I pay a lot of attention to books like this. Written by Daniel H Wilson, who has a PhD in robotics, this entertaining and decidedly creepy novel tells the story of the emergence of an artificial intelligence that instigates a robot takeover and a war against humanity. Dangerous territory for any writer, as it's a scenario that's been tackled many times before and is one where it's easy to fall into clichés. But this is a thought-provoking take on an old idea. Wilson assembles a diverse and fascinating group of characters and as the action progresses, we see how some of their stories mesh together. The book has already been a New York Times bestseller, but expect to hear a lot more about it soon: Steven Spielberg is directing the movie, which is expected to be one of the big summer hits of 2014. I've already been asked to record a TV interview about the real-life threat of AI and a robot rebellion (with my defence analyst/sci-fi writer/fringe science commentator hat on), but more about that in a future column.
Old Bones - A Brief Introduction to Bioarchaeology
This fascinating new Kindle e-book costs just $2.99 and covers subjects as diverse as cannibalism to the mysterious 'conehead' skulls that have been found in various parts of the world. It also happens to have been written by my wife. Bioarchaeology is the study of human skeletal remains from archaeological sites to aid in reconstructing the biology and culture of past populations. Bioarchaeology is one of the lesser-known fields of physical anthropology and yet it is one of the most researched topics in physical anthropology. It has gained in popularity around the world and we have a renaissance of anthropological studies coming from both Western and Eastern Europe. North and South American anthropologists continue to make significant contributions to the field of bioarchaeology as well. Old Bones: A Brief Introduction to Bioarchaeology explains the science and literature behind some of the hottest topics in bioarchaeology, such as: activity reconstruction through the use of osteoarthritis, origins of tuberculosis, the use of aDNA to determine biological relationships, examining weaning patterns through isotopic element analyses, understanding cranial deformation in relation to modern populations, and evidence of cannibalism and violence. The book's emphasis is on helping readers understand the most current research coming from both the New and Old World published in the top peer-reviewed journals. There are over 50 illustrations, photos, and graphs to help readers grasp key concepts throughout the book.
One of the subjects that I broadcast and write about is conspiracy theories. I'm generally pretty skeptical, but certainly don't dismiss them out of hand, not least because history tells us that some conspiracies are real. The Summer 2012 issue of The Skeptic carries a detailed article from me in which I set out some thoughts on conspiracy theories and why I think they're worth taking seriously, whatever the truth of any individual conspiracy. Click on skeptic.org.uk for information about the magazine and for an earlier statement of my views click on nickpope.net for my position statement.
If you like fantasy books, check out Shadow Blizzard, by Alexey Pehov. Like many of the best high fantasy novels, it tells the story of a band of characters on a quest. In this case, for a long-lost Horn that will save the kingdom. But life is never simple or easy in such quests and many dangers must be faced along the way. If you like books like The Lord of The Rings, you'll like Shadow Blizzard. Elves, sorceresses, thieves, catacombs, evil magic and destiny. Familiar themes, but hugely enjoyable.
In my previous two columns I wrote extensively about 2012 and the idea that the world will end on 21st December 2012, as many people believe is predicted by the Mayan calendar. I've also been commissioned by The Sun to write a major newspaper feature on the subject, giving an overview of the various theories. This in turn led to my being asked to do various TV and radio interviews on the subject. Expect interest in this topic to build in the run-up to 21st December. For the record, I'm personally sceptical that anything unusual will happen, let alone that the world will end. As with all the hype over Nostradamus and The Rapture, as long as one doesn't take these sorts of predictions seriously, they're a bit of fun and a nice excuse to hold an end of the world party. Click on thesun.co.uk to read my feature in The Sun.
Author, journalist and TV personality Nick Pope used to run the British Government's UFO Project and is now recognised as one of the world's leading experts on UFOs, the unexplained and conspiracy theories.
Check out www.nickpope.net for more information about Nick.