Testing a claim of extraterrestrial technology
PART 1: AN INTRODUCTION BY ALLEN TOUGH
On October 29, 2004, a man left a voicemail message for me in which he stated that he had "what the Invitation to ETI group is looking for" -- that is, evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence. Let's call this man "Adam Adamson" (not his real name). Scot Stride and I then engaged in an email dialogue with Mr. Adamson. The core of the claim was this: he had an alien transmitter and receiver implanted in his body that was able to transmit signals that could be studied by scientific equipment. Since the claimant was eager to be tested and was offering to provide clear-cut hard evidence, I decided he should be given an opportunity to prove his claim. I sent an email message to ten members of the Invitation to ETI group, and Richard Factor responded with an offer to conduct the tests. Since he owned the necessary equipment and was highly qualified to use it, I accepted his offer immediately.
The tests took place on December 16, 2004 in Little Ferry, New Jersey, USA. At noon, Adam Adamson presented and explained his claim (using a whiteboard) to Allen Tough, Richard Factor, and Paul Shuch. Also present was a 2-person team of professional radio journalists to tape all the events for possible use on a later documentary radio show. We then gathered outside a large shielded room for the actual tests, conducted by Richard Factor. His manner was amiable and cooperative; after all, our goal was to help Mr. Adamson prove his claim, not to make him nervous.
Part 2 (the next section) presents Mr. Factor's report. Part 3 presents Dr. Shuch's assessment. Part 4 is a message from Mr. Adamson, presenting his thoughts and requests. Part 5 consists of concluding comments from Allen Tough.
PART 2: A REPORT OF THE TESTS BY RICHARD FACTOR
Date: Thu, 16 Dec 2004 18:03:55 EST
This is a brief writeup of the tests I performed today. I am sorry, given the remarkable claims of Mr. Adamson, to present a "null" result.
Mr. Adamson asserted that radio signals (somewhere in the range of 1MHz to 1GHz) were being emitted by a "probe" controlled by alien intelligence that was somehow associated with his person. While the claims are unusual to say the least, as an associate of the Invitation to ETI project and a SETI enthusiast, I volunteered to conduct what tests I was able to with an open mind. I expressed my concerns prior to the test that I would only be able to determine whether a signal was being emitted, and had no expertise whatsoever in determining whether it might be alien, fortuitous, fraudulent, or what. We agreed that it was worth performing the tests as a first step in any event.
I have at my disposal a commercial EMI compatibility test facility, which is why I volunteered to begin with. This facility includes an RF-Proof screen room and an R&S EMI test receiver, and is normally used to determine whether electronic equipment is compliant with various national regulations, e.g., FCC, CE, etc. Using the facility one can confirm the presence of incidental radiation, and a deliberate radiator would stand out spectacularly. I performed the following tests:
It should be noted that the R&S receiver performs a slow sweep, so if a signal were present momentarily, it might well not be noted. Therefore, although it was clear that there was no continuous emitter in the room, there might be a sporadic source of RF. Accordingly:
Date: Fri, 17 Dec 2004 09:17:18 -0500
The test subject appeared intelligent, coherent and cooperative. He explained prior to the shield-room tests that ETI had chosen to disguise its communications signals so as to look like noise. In fact, during several different tests, nothing was observed that bore any statistical difference from thermal background plus internal equipment noise. During the alleged transmissions, nothing substantive was observed on the EMI test system or on the spectrum analyzer. The subject's explanation was that the transmissions did indeed look like noise, which is a bit reminiscent of the old joke about the Invisible Man: "of course you can't see him. He's invisible, and that proves it!"
The subject pointed out several noise spikes and alleged they were "the signal." These were intermittent amplitude deviations, aperiodic, randomly distributed, and perhaps 10 dB out of the mean background noise. If we assume (as we have every reason to expect) that the system noise is Gaussian, then it appears (visually) that its standard deviation is on the order of 3 dB. I compute that a 10 dB deviation from the mean in this case represents five standard deviations (considering that deciBels are a logarithmic scale). Such an outcome has a high probability of random occurrence. I have frequently seen 10 dB spikes in the noise every time I turn on spectrum analyzers of this type. Thus, the observed phenomena (if indeed any were observed) were 5-sigma events, not statistically significant as being distinguishable from noise.
In the absense of repeatability, we in the SETI community tend to set a more rigorous decision rule in determining significance. For example, the tantalyzing Ohio State Univesity "Wow!" event of 15 August 1977, though by no means conclusively identified as an extraterrestrial emission, was considered credible and worthy of further study in part because its amplitude exceeded the mean background noise by thirty (30!) standard deviations, a level with a vanishingly small probability of random occurrence.
The subject indicated that extensive further study and testing, lasting perhaps several months, would be required to "verify and analyze the signals." Considering the cost (several hundreds of dollars per hour) of renting and operating a commercial EMI test facility, such testing is beyond the resources of most SETI organizations. I am unwilling to commit SETI League resources to further testing of this claimed phenomenon, nor, based upon the initial negative result, do I consider such testing warranted.
PART 4 IS A MESSAGE FROM ADAM ADAMSON
[This space is reserved for Adam Adamson's comments. We have repeatedly urged him to send us his comments. Unfortunately we have not heard from Mr. Adamson since the tests.]
PART 5, REFLECTIONS BY ALLEN TOUGH
Here are some personal reflections, written two days after the testing. My uppermost feeling is admiration and gratitude for Adam Adamson's dedication, keen curiosity, and heroic efforts. He traveled a very long distance by bus, he prepared a detailed orientation lecture for us, and he certainly did his best to make the phenomenon manifest itself in a measurable form.
He is eager to communicate with SETI scientists and seemed eager to prepare a statement presenting his view of the testing results and the further research that he would like to do (if he can find an interested person or team with the necessary equipment). We will post his statement as Part 4 (above) just as soon as we receive it.
In the meantime, we are disguising his real name by calling him "Adam Adamson." Someday he may ask us to use his real name, but until he does so, I will try to protect his identity.
My other overriding feeling is pride in the ad hoc team that handled these tests. Richard Factor and Paul Shuch were superbly professional and competent. They were friendly, pleasant, and polite with Mr. Adamson without ever losing the necessary scientific skepticism and detachment. The radio documentary production team, too, was superbly competent and unfailingly pleasant and friendly.
The Invitation to ETI project is based on the likelihood that a highly advanced society will send super-smart nano-probes to study other civilizations, or will monitor our telecommunications in some other way. We have chosen a web-based invitation as our best bet for contact. Every scientific project has to make choices about what to focus on. Given that we cannot do everything, we seek a highly articulate response from a super-smart alien intelligence. We lack the expertise and (given that we cannot do everything) the motivation to pursue research into UFOs, orbs, abductions, ancient astronauts, and many other fascinating claims and reports of anomalous phenomena. I hope everyone realizes we are not in the business of investigating such claims. We have not changed our focus.
Fortunately there are many organizations devoted to the study of various anomalous phenomena. Anyone with anomalous experiences to report can search for a compatible organization on the Internet, in various periodicals devoted to these topics, and in networks of informed people.
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