Not all Canadians are reality-based

By Phil Plait | March 11, 2009 3:32 pm

One of the things I like about Canada is that its citizens tend not only to be reality-based, but also are so matter-of-fact about it. Of course we don’t think vaccines cause autism, they might say? Why would you ever think that?

But some do succumb to nonsense. And some of these can be high profile.

I present to you one Paul Hellyer, ex-Minister of Defence (sic). He thinks evidence for UFOs is "irrefutable".

Uh, yeah.

First off, he’s wrong. Of course the UFO evidence is refutable. If it weren’t, then we’d know UFOs exist. Despite the claims of some, we still have not a single confirmed picture, video, sample, or sighting of a bona fide alien spacecraft. What we do have is a gazillion UFOs, but remember what the acronym stands for. It doesn’t mean "space ships". It means stuff some people haven’t quite figured out yet.

The article linked above is chock full o’ nonsense. They say that more sightings means that this is more evidence of UFOs, which is silly. A thousand sightings is not evidence of space ships, any more than one is. Little candle-powered balloons released at weddings and other celebrations are on the rise — literally — all over the place, accounting for a lot of sightings, for example. I’m not saying that the reported UFOs by Canada aren’t something else, but I am pointing out that there are literally dozens if not hundreds of more mundane explanations of such things, and jumping to "spaceships" on the list may be just a tad premature.

I’m sure Hellyer will be the darling of the UFO set now, despite what is most likely a complete lack of any real new data. I predict he’ll rehash the same old stuff, but having a new voice will give the movement some new momentum. But as I’ve said here and elsewhere over and over again: show me the evidence. I will not accept eyewitness testimony, which is prone to being fooled. Nor will I accept blurry photos, videos of Venus, or circumstantial evidence. If you claim UFOs are actually spaceships, the onus is on you to provide solid evidence. Until then, don’t be surprised that so many people make fun of you. You can make all the claims you want that aliens carved Homer Simpson into your wheat crop, or that carnivorous or medically inept Reticulans have been munching on bovine posteriors.

Until you have the solid evidence, all you’re doing is repeating the same tired old stuff, and no matter how many times you say it, it won’t make you right.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Antiscience, Debunking, Piece of mind

Comments (68)

  1. Colin J

    Ah crap. Now the secret is out. Some of us are as wack-a-doodle as the rest of the planet. Note: Some, not all.

  2. Davidlpf

    We have nuts they’re usually just more polite then everybosy elses nuts.

  3. Between this and the Vancouver whackjob recently sending Pee Zed e-mails inviting him to be killed, it seems I’m spending a lot of time defending Canada’s honour lately.

    Yes I spelled it “honour”.

  4. Like, eh, the man is good for tourism. He helped inaugurate a UFO landing pad in St. Paul, Alberta in 1967. All right, so no UFOs have actually landed there yet. It’s just a matter of time.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Hellyer

  5. I am so ashamed.
    No, wait, not so. Hellyer was Minister of Defense in 1963, and has been a UFO nut at least since 1967. I think he can be safely disregarded, or better yet mocked, without worrying about his idiocity spilling off on the rest of us.

  6. BJN

    Since when did UFO stop meaning “unidentified flying object”? I daresay that by definition, UFOs exist. Heck, I’ve seen things flying that I couldn’t identify. If they’re identified, they cease to be UFOs.

  7. Okay, wait, I’m confused. He’s former military (more or less), right? So doesn’t that mean he’s involved in the coverup? So we can’t trust anything he says, right?

    Just trying to get a handle on the whole evidence thing. I keep forgetting which testimony is reputable and which is conspiracy. I mean, it says right in the article that he’s never actually seen a UFO. By the rules of the game, I believe that means he’s not allowed to pass judgment on the evidence.

    But, then again, he’s read a book. I suppose we should bow to his exhaustive research efforts.

  8. jest

    A thousand sightings of an ice rink in downtown Los Angeles doesn’t mean a new ice age is upon us either.

    Most of my friends are very aware that an unexplained sighting (in the skies) doesn’t mean it’s a UFO. I guess I choose my friends wisely.

    I’ve met people who were convinced they “saw something” that was irrefutable. “Can’t be a plane!” “Can’t be a helicopter!” “Can’t be a satellite!”

    Hehe.. ah, some people are just trying to convince themselves that they’ve seen something special. I believe there’s a very very tiny chance that another, VERY advanced civilization could, in theory, visit us. But it’s such a slim chance, and I’m doubtful they’d WANT us to see them.

    Considering the vast distances between us and a likely “other” civilization, there’d be little point in them even coming. Given, there’s yet to be discovered technology we can’t wrap our heads around yet.

    I’m not too worried about a visit.

  9. As a Canadian I can say that there is nothing wrong with the spelling of “defence minister” :P

  10. Adrian Lopez

    “Since when did UFO stop meaning “unidentified flying object”? I daresay that by definition, UFOs exist. Heck, I’ve seen things flying that I couldn’t identify. If they’re identified, they cease to be UFOs.”

    If not for the use of the word flying, which is an unnecessary assumption, I would agree. How about, UOO: Unidentified Object Overhead.

    “Hey everybody, it’s a UOO!”

    Or, perhaps, simply: “Uooooooooooooooooooooo!”

  11. Where's the Beef

    …and our current Minister of International Trade thinks men and dinosaurs walked th earth together. Any wonder the trade deficit with the US has reversed on his watch.

    Just take heart that most Canadians are NOT whack jobs like these lunatics. We just like to elect them to the public office so we can keep an eye on them.

    Sniff, sniff, … do I smell something burning?

  12. Funny, you know that in Britain, they call it Series rather than Season, which I personally think is silly, but you don’t know in Canada (and the UK (what a twist)) they spell defence and offence with a C?!

    What’s next? Realise with an S? Encyclopædia with an Æ? Artefact with an E? Programme with a -me ending!?

    They are silly those Brits, but then again they invented English, so I think they know best.

  13. Aaron Luchko

    Considering the fact that he’s 85 I’d like to blame this on senility. Don’t worry, we’ll send him out on an iceflow soon and this can all be forgotten. (Even if Bipedal is right about 1967 he could have gone senile early).

  14. don

    Sadly there are crackpots everywhere, even in my own country. I like the “UOO” designation but it doesn’t have the same media appeal. But as Phil pointed out, Flying does not mean a spaceship.

    Also sadly, they had the scrubbed the Discovery launch tonight due to a leak in ground equipment (So they are currently saying).

  15. Brango

    Maybe he means that the evidence that they are Unidentified is irrefutable!

    You know, in a sort of look-for-the-good-in-people kind of a way.

  16. Grizzly

    Meh, he’s a harmless old coot. He was mostly harmless as a cabinet minister, and yes it’s spelled “defence”. You should get to know your neighbours, we are mostly an honourable lot with a fixation on proper spelling.

  17. rcn2

    It’s getting worse.

    I live in British Columbia, Canada, and out here our government is apparently considering a course of action that’s similarly ‘interesting’. Our Health Minister (http://www.gov.bc.ca/health/minister.html) is going to grant naturopaths the ability to prescribe medications: http://tinyurl.com/avheem . Although prescribing real medication is better than the fake stuff they sell, we have enough problems with the antivaxxers without giving naturopaths even more credibility.

    Hell. In a Handbasket.

  18. Miranda

    Phil, you wrote about this fool before …

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2007/03/01/i-cant-think-of-a-title-stupid-enough-to-do-this-justice/

    I can only assume that means we Canadians are well below the statistical average for crackpots per capita :)

  19. Keith

    Actually, aliens carved Eric Cartman into my wheat field, lol.

  20. Matt

    Whew! Phil… for a second there I thought you were going to tell me about creationism invading the north. I pray (sic) that doesn’t happen here (at least on the west coast) :)

    Lived in Vic BC all my life, and apart from a guy downtown with a large sign, most people here are on pretty solid reality ground

    BTW love your blog and its often talked about up here!

  21. gopher65

    I’ve been slowly trying to push my coworkers into a more skeptical frame of mind, especially on significant things like naturapaths and Nostradamus “worship”. It’s an uphill battle, let me tell you.

    Fortunately most of them seem to already be aware that they shouldn’t take funky Chinese herbs while on medication (or ever). I was pleasantly surprised, because I’d been bracing myself for another fight;).

  22. They’re really coming out all over the place here. At last night’s Vancouver Skeptics in the Pub we had a 911 Truther show up and annoy/amuse some of our fellow Skeptics. Should have some pics of him up on our Facebook group soon — my wife thought he was hilarious and had him pose for pics showing off his magnifying-glass-burned crazy person buttons.

  23. Sisu

    Uh, our current minister of science and technology, The Honourable Gary Goodyear, is a chiropractor.

    Maybe all the cranks found their way into politics.

  24. Utakata

    I am going to reframe from commenting, “All you needed to do was look at our current leadership and the official opposition to conclude that.” I don’t turn this into another 145 posting “John McCain was right” gnashing teeth style thread…which has previously plagued this blog.

  25. Utakata

    @ Sisu:

    Don’t forget our adorable Public Safety minister Stockwell Day who campaigned that men walked dinosaurs when he was leader of Canadian Alliance (now Conservatives).

  26. Brian

    Ummm, “sic” is for actual spelling mistakes, not perfectly acceptable variant spellings. Pedantry like this, especially when it’s not actually correct, only serves to give ammunition to those who say that scientists and their advocates are smug and out of touch.

  27. Azdak

    No TRUE Canadian would believe such nonsense!

    We have our fair share of ignorant goofballs and wackaloons here, too. Check out the comments on news stories on http://www.cbc.ca some time for some choice examples. It’s a wonder these folks can feed themselves. Or perhaps I’m presuming too much.

  28. An analogy of the more sightings equals more evidence to support alien visitors.

    The mortgage market has always had some sub-prime loans. As the number expanded, the mortgage writers used that as evidence of the safety of writing these sub-prime mortgages.

    See. All of these loans being paid off is proof that this is safe. We need to do more!

    To paraphrase The Princess BrideThat UFO you keep seeing. I do not think it is what you think it is. To them, this is inconceivable.

    Most of the time, more is just more.

    Even without more objects in the sky to be seen, there are more people on the planet. More people to see the same objects differently. More people to hallucinate, have strange dreams, . . . .

    If there are aliens visiting us, the quantity of evidence needed to prove this is just one, but the observation needs to be confirmed independently.

  29. @Adrian Lopez,

    One problem with the Unidentified Overhead Object is that some of these objects do not even exist, or might not be overhead – only perceived as overhead and flying. Hallucinations, spots before one’s eyes, . . . . Although, Uooooooooooooooooooooo! does have a very Monty Python feel to it, at least to me.

  30. chief

    Reading the posts and I think a correction is in order. As to man walking with dinosaurs as some in high places believe, I think they are right. We have just been assuming the wrong thing. It’s about some of the members in the House of Commons. Expecially the Senate….

  31. JB of Brisbane

    They ARE alien spaceships! (Stamps feet) They ARE!! They ARE!!! They ARE!!!!

    There, that proves it once and for all. ;)

  32. Bo Babbyo

    Brian is right — BA’s use of the notation “(sic)” was incorrect. DEFENCE is the standard British spelling, not an error.

    More, from A Dictionary of Modern American Usage by Bryan A. Garner (OUP 1998):
    Sic (=thus, so), invariably bracketed and usually set in italics, is used to indicate that a preceding word or phrase in a quoted passage is reproduced as it appeared in the original passage. Sic at its best is intended to aid readers who might be confused about whether the quoter or the quoted writer is responsible for the spelling or grammatical anomaly.

    It’s also true that use of [sic] almost inevitably makes the writer appear smug. I know most of us don’t mind being a little smug from time to time, but smug and inaccurate is a bad mix.

  33. They are silly those Brits, but then again they invented English, so I think they know best.

    Actually, they didn’t invent it. It just sort of happened on them, and the more perceptive of the English people have been denying responsibility ever since.

    English is one of the ugliest mongrel-languages in existence, consisting of fragments of every culture that has ever invaded Britain (lots) and of every culture that England ever colonised (lots) plus a few extra historical oddities for good measure.

    There are no rules in English grammar or spelling, just a long list of “exceptions”. No Intelligent Designer would have invented something like that, it is clearly a product of (victim of?) evolution.

    And it keeps evolving, and “speciating”. If the British, USAians, Canadians, Oz-Zealanders, Indians, South Africans et al were to become isolated for long enough (about three weeks ought to do it), the different dialects would quickly become mutually unintelligible. Err, I mean, “even more so than already”

  34. Nigel Depledge

    Phil said:

    As a Canadian I can say that there is nothing wrong with the spelling of “defence minister”

    Hear, hear.

    It’s only those damyankees who spell it “defense” (sic) anyhow.
    ;-)

  35. Nigel Depledge

    Svip said:

    . . . call it Series rather than Season, which I personally think is silly. . .

    And the typical US “season” is, what, 23 weeks? Which of the four actual seasons covers a comparable span of time?

    Whereas, in the UK, a TV series (i.e. a series of discrete episodes, as opposed to a serial) can last from 6 weeks to 6 months (the latter more usually being US imports, of course, but that ain’t the point).

    Now, who’s being silly again?

  36. Nigel Depledge

    Svip also said:

    They are silly those Brits, but then again they invented English, so I think they know best.

    No, we didn’t, we stole it.

    Modern English says a big “Thanks” to mediaevel French, mediaevel Latin, Old English (Anglo-Saxon), various languages from India, Africa, China, Singapore, North America (native American languages, that is), and various additional bits and bobs from all over the world.

    It might be harder to find a language that has not contributed to modern English than to find ones that have.

  37. Nigel Depledge

    Rogue Medic said:

    Although, Uooooooooooooooooooooo! does have a very Monty Python feel to it, at least to me.

    No, no. It’s “Aaaargh”, in the back of the throat.

  38. csrster

    I think Tom Shippey is responsible for the theory that English was basically invented by Vikings who were too lazy to learn to speak Anglo-Saxon properly.

  39. MadScientist

    Isn’t ‘defence minister’ de guy in charge o’ de fences? I think I’ve read too many Uncle Remus stories.

    Of course Canadians have quacks – everyone does. Speaking of quacks, thanks to that whackjob in Germany shooting people, the woo press is running on full steam. There are now numerous non-news non-stories about “why people are doing this”, “how we can stop them”, and “why such crime is on the rise” – I swear those self-proclaimed “experts” are every bit as dumb as psychics.

  40. Todd W.

    @Nigel Depledge

    It might be harder to find a language that has not contributed to modern English than to find ones that have.

    Esperanto. Swahili. Possibly Sanskrit, though a few words may have been borrowed. Not that hard. :P

  41. Paul M

    Unidentified Frakkin’ Object?

  42. Michael Kearney

    Yes, too bad about Mr. Hellyer. He wasn’t have bad years ago in his portfolio but the UFO thing sure throws cold water on the Canada Land concept. Yeah, quacks are everywhere, EVEN in Canada!! (I’m a Canadian:-) On another tack, I like the buddie’s reference above to the “woo” press, that’s a good way, a good one! We will incorporate, we will incorporate…we will..

    Mek

  43. Michael Kearney

    opps typo… “have bad” should read “half bad”.

  44. Ivan

    Phil: The Society of Ilegal Extraterrestrial Aliens from planet BS want to send you a check for your effort to ocult our ilegal landing in this planet. We promise to forbid our youths to cruise in our space ships without the cloaking device and to suspend colonoscopies in ignorant peasants (and rather to open a colonoscopy clinic). Please tell Mr. Ex defense minister that we don’t want to perform weekly colonocopies in him. One every three years is enough to prevent cancer.
    You terrestial beings are weird!!!

  45. Ray Gedaly

    Being from Texas, I like to visit Canada at least once a year for a Reality Check. Here in Texas, we’re way too busy debating Evolution to worry about UFOs.

  46. Sion H

    @Todd W – I think, if memory serves, that Swahili gave us the word ‘Jumbo’. I’m sure one of the kind peeps out there will be able to confirm/deny this.

  47. IVAN3MAN

    Nigel Depledge:

    It might be harder to find a language that has not contributed to modern English than to find ones that have.

    Klingon: yiDoghQo’ — Don’t be silly.

  48. IVAN3MAN

    Actually, that should be written: yIDoghQo’, not “yiDoghQo’.”

    Damn my puny human fingers!

  49. Nigel Depledge

    Todd W said:

    Esperanto. Swahili. Possibly Sanskrit, though a few words may have been borrowed. Not that hard.

    I agree about Esperanto, which is an invented language.

    But I think there is one word of Swahili in modern English (ten points to whoever gets it first). Sanskrit is such an old language that it probably contributed to at least some words that English has acquired from elsewhere.

  50. Nigel Depledge

    Sion H said:

    I think, if memory serves, that Swahili gave us the word ‘Jumbo’. I’m sure one of the kind peeps out there will be able to confirm/deny this.

    Well, I don’t know where the word came from, but “Jumbo” arrived in English as the name of a very large elephant. Hence its meaning as a very large example of its kind.

    I have no idea if “Jumbo” actually has a meaning in a language other than English.

  51. Nigel Depledge

    @ Ivan3man – Klingon is another invented language. (And is younger than modern English, unless you subscribe to the “theory” that Shakespeare wrote in Klingon!)

  52. Brian

    @Nigel – “Safari” is Swahili for “journey”.

  53. Todd W.

    @Nigel Depledge

    Hmm…how about Ainu?

  54. deatkin

    Hey now, let’s not give a free pass to the man from Houston, B.C., who thinks he’s found Bigfoot tracks in the snow. http://www.theprovince.com/Technology/snaps+pictures+sasquatch+footprints+northern/1378636/story.html

    Apparently he’s also a “UFO researcher.” Something for me to consider if this whole actual researcher thing doesn’t pan out, eh?

  55. Quiet_Desperation

    Since when did UFO stop meaning “unidentified flying object”?

    Quite a while ago, I think. UFO was being used as synonymous for “alien flying saucer” when I was a kid back in the 1970s.

  56. Quiet_Desperation

    The Society of Illegal Extraterrestrial Aliens

    Oh, great! Illegal aliens that will take all the high tech jobs! Yikes! I hear they will work in exchange for a small pod to live in and a steady supply of methane. House them next to a cow farm, I guess.

    But then again, if those old Intel commercial are to believed, the Gray Aliens are really impressed with the dumb old Pentium 3, so maybe there’s no worries.

  57. Bruce Almighty

    The English language is rather like a Vogon spaceship – it appears to have not been so much designed as, um, congealed.

    And to Keith, above: are you sure it was Eric Cartman? Kinda looked like Tom Selleck to me…

  58. Craig

    I think that Hellyer needs a couple of extra-large double-doubles from Timmy’s and his common sense will be restored. “H” “E” “double hockey sticks”, people! It’s roll up the rim to win time at Timmy’s. Let’s all meet there and poke fun at the quacks from Canada while we partake of the elixar of life, along with a few crullers too!

    Beauty, eh?

  59. Geoff R

    Hi Phil;
    Paul Hellyer ceased to be relevant 40 years ago. The tone in your post made it sound like he served recently. Yes he is a former defence minister but that was 45 years ago. However as Shakespeare says “The evil that men do lives after them” My late father was still in the Army reserve when Hellyer was in charge of the DOD. My father in law who at 86 is still with us, was serving in the Air Force at the time. He can tell you about Paul Hellyer.
    His stint as defence minister in the 60’s was punctuated with the disaster of unification of the three Canadian Armed Services. This pie in sky solution to rising defence spending called for the Army, Navy and Air Force to be joined together to form the Canadian Forces. The three distinct uniforms were done away with and replaced by a single green one. The once proud RCAF lettering on our warplanes disappeared to be replaced by the Canadian Forces logo, in English and French. Members were transferred between services. Airman served on ships, solders on airbases. I recall a political carton of the day where an obviously sea sick solider is reporting onto the bridge of a ship. One navel officer quips to another “It’s a Hellyer of a way to run a navy.” Moral plummeted. Thousands left the service. In the unified central command the procurement process for new equipment bogged down. By the early 1970’s the ground forces still had the same tanks they used in Korea. By the early 1980’s the front line fighters, the ones that were suppose to face off against the Soviets should they invade western Europe were older than a lot of the pilots who flew them. And the sea service, our last aircraft carrier sold for scrap, destroyers that would look more at home chasing Nazi U-Boats, and with little capability for protecting our ocean approaches. In the middle 1980’s unification was ended and the Army, Navy and Air Force became separate entities once more. Slowly the pride returned.
    Paul Hellyer damm near destroyed our armed forces. I’ve been listening to his loopy UFO garbage since the 1990’s. He uses his former job as a government minister to imply respectability to his views. As you have often pointed out, having great responsibility does necessarily lead to a rational view of the world.

  60. Fred Nurke

    Hey folks, there’s a rule, and it’s easy: ence – noun, ense – verb.
    e.g.
    licence – noun, James Bond has a licence to kill.
    license – verb, James Bond is licensed to kill.

    defence – noun, The Ministry of Defence

    as Eddie Izzard says: you say “urb” we say “herb” … because there’s a f*cking “h” in it!

  61. Nigel Depledge

    @Brian – 10 points, you were first!!

  62. Nigel Depledge

    Todd W said:

    Hmm…how about Ainu?

    You’ve got me there. That’s one I’ve not heard of.

  63. @Nigel Depledge wrote:

    Rogue Medic said:

    “Although, Uooooooooooooooooooooo! does have a very Monty Python feel to it, at least to me.”

    No, no. It’s “Aaaargh”, in the back of the throat.

    No, no, no, oooooooh, in surprise and alarm.

    :-)

  64. jumbo (adj.) From the online etymology dictionary – http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=jumbo
    “very large,” 1897, Amer.Eng., in ref. to Jumbo, name of the London Zoo’s huge elephant, sold Feb. 1882 to U.S. circus showman P.T. Barnum. The name is probably from slang jumbo “clumsy, unwieldy fellow” (1823), which itself is possibly from a word for “elephant” in a W.African language (cf. Kongo nzamba).

    Jambo, not jumbo, is Swahili for Hello.

    From Swahili – dengue, mamba, marimba, and (as already mentioned) safari.

    From Sanskrit – karma and pundit.

  65. @Fred Nurke,

    Hey folks, there’s a rule, and it’s easy: ence – noun, ense – verb.
    e.g.
    licence – noun, James Bond has a licence to kill.
    license – verb, James Bond is licensed to kill.

    defence – noun, The Ministry of Defence

    as Eddie Izzard says: you say “urb” we say “herb” … because there’s a f*cking “h” in it!

    Except that, at least in American English, you are wrong. Both can be used as nouns. Both can be used as verbs.

    Maybe I am just being licentious with the English language.

    Do you have a flag? No flag, no language rule. To paraphrase Mr. Izzard.

  66. Todd W.

    @Nigel Depledge

    You’ve got me there. That’s one I’ve not heard of.

    Ainu is the language (and name) of the indigenous people of northern Japan.

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