Extraordinary claims. Ordinary investigations.

Archive for the 'People' Category

Heroes of Science: Action Figures


Click for the full set on DeviantArt – sadly this is just a concept art, but one amazingly well-done by Russell “datazoid”.

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Erich von Daniken: Fraud, Lies and Bananas


To me this is the most incredible, fantastic story of the century”, wrote Swiss author Erich von Daniken in his 1973 book, The Gold of the Gods.. “It could easily have come straight from the realms of Science Fiction if I had not seen and photographed the incredible truth in person. What I saw was not the product of dreams or imagination, it was real and tangible”, he emphasized.

Daniken gave an excited first person account of this expedition guided by fellow Juan Moricz, and the incredible wonders he saw for himself. Only thing is, shortly after the book was published, Moricz disauthorized the Charioteer and told German newspapers Däniken had never been to the caves “unless it was in a flying saucer. If he claims to have seen the [golden] library and the other things himself then that’s a lie”.

And in the NOVA/Horizon documentary above, The Case of the Ancient Astronauts (1977), around 40 minutes on, you can see Däniken himself admitting these things described in his book didn’t actually happen. It’s wonderful seeing how he express some discomfort, but does not seem terribly disturbed confessing he simply made up the “incredible real and tangible truth”;.

According to him, those were simple literary “effects” and “small details” that an author was allowed to use. Not only did he invent his visit to the caves, despite the persevering search for what is yet another version of El Dorado, all suggests Moricz himself also invented everything. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, but when those who claim to have seen those wonders come up with excuses like “they were too heavy to take out”, “the world is not yet prepared to know it” or that even simple photos “wouldn’t prove anything anyway”, one can reasonably disregard the subject until something solid comes up.


That was not actually the first time Däniken somewhat candidly confessed making things up. Previously, in a wonderful interview by Timothy Ferris published on Playboy, August 1974, after being presented as a three times convicted criminal – one for stealing and twice for fraud –confronted with someone who contrary to him, had done his homework, Däniken concedes again and again how little he knew of the subjects he wrote about.

You can read a full scan of the interview here. And in the end, Däniken actually admits he was not entirely serious on what he wrote:

Ferris: A last question comes to mind because of our favorite of your theories – the one in Gold of the Gods in which you suggest that the banana was brought to Earth from space.

Ferris is referring to this excerpt, from the same book with the imaginary expedition to the non-existent golden caves:

“The banana, a delicious item of food, has been known in every tropical and subtropical region of the earth for many thousands of years. The Indian saga tells of the "wonderful Kandali" (= banana bush) which the "Manu," the loftiest spirits and protectors of mankind, brought to our planet from another star which was much further along the path of evolution than our earth. But a banana bush or banana tree simply does not exist! The banana is an annual plant which does not multiply by seeds, which it does not possess, but by suckers. Looked at in this light, the banana is a problem. It is found on even the most remote South Sea islands. How did this plant, which is so vital for the nourishment of mankind, originate? How did it make its way round the world, seeing that it has no seeds? Did the "Manu," of whom the Indian saga tells, bring it with them from another star-as an all-round foodstuff?”

And Ferris straightly asks: “Were you serious?” Von Däniken answers:

Von Daniken: No, and not many people realize that.”

The best part ends the brilliant interview:

Ferris: That leads us to ask if all your writing is a put-on. Are you, as one writer suggested, ‘the most brilliant satirist in German literature for a century’?

Von Daniken: The answer is yes and no. We have a wonderful term in German: jein. It’s a combination of ja and nein, yes and no. In some part, absolutely not; I mean what I say seriously. In other ways, I mean to make people laugh.

Ferris: Well, you’ve succeeded in both aims.”

ha ha! [with thanks to Carlos Bella for suggesting the 1977 documentary online]

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Two Nobel Prizes?


Just saw this photo of 16 year-old Marie Curie at Kuriositas, and it immediately reminded me of the Challenge Accepted meme.

Marie Curie, two Nobel Prizes, first female professor at the University of Paris, giving away patent rights for the good of mankind, dying by radiation poisoning due to her strenuous work, but not before raising two kids, one of which would also come to receive another Nobel Prize.

Marie Curie, like a boss.

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A young astronomer’s view on UFOs

Here’s a 32 year-old Carl Sagan speaking about flying saucers.

Fascinating bit of history. In that same year, the young astronomer published the book “Intelligent Life in the Universe”, along with Soviet Iosef Shklovskii. In that book, a scientific collaboration during the Cold War, Sagan and his Soviet fellow would delve and speculate into questions that unfortunately have not changed very much half a century later.

This is both because they were visionaries – the ubiquity of exoplanets was by no means a given in the 1960s, much to the contrary – and also because we still have not made contact nor found any conclusive evidence of intelligent life elsewhere in the Universe. Sadly.

This book is also very notable because, even before one Swiss guy exploited the idea, Sagan and Shklovskii analyzed seriously the idea of gods as ancient astronauts. Even a famous Sumerian tablet with several planets is discussed, decades before another alleged “expert” made a lot of fuss about it.

Now, back to the video interview, the man besides Sagan is also very notable, and not only because of the eypatch (due to an automobile accident) or the fact he lights up a smoking pipe. He’s Thornton Page, a noted astronomer and previously part of the Robertson panel on UFOs. Most importantly, along with the same Carl Sagan, he would promote a UFO symposium on the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

That’s right, in 1969, one of the most representative institutions of science, the one that actually publishes Science, held a symposium about UFOs. Paul E. McCarthy has a very interesting dissertation on the backstage of this episode of UFO, and science, history: Politicking and Paradigm Shifting: James E. McDonald and the UFO case study. [hattip to Leonardo Stern]

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Trindade Island case photographer admits hoax


This Sunday, a major TV show in Brazil, “Fantastico”, aired a bombshell about the Trindade Island’s UFO (click for the original video and transcript in Portuguese). This is one of the most celebrated cases in ufology, so when a friend of the author of the famous photos, Almiro Barauna, tells in a recorded interview that she:

“heard from the photographer himself: he hoaxed the images, it was a montage. ‘He got two spoons, joined them and improvised a spaceship, using as background his home fridge. He photographed on the fridge door and object with a perfect lighting, because the calculated everything, he wasn’t dumb. He laughed a lot’, said Emilia Bittencourt.”

So this is a bombshell, especially because the TV show also reported that “Barauna’s files are with a niece, who didn’t want to record an interview, but she confirms the hoax.” A friend says she heard from the photographer details of how he hoaxed the world-famous UFO photos, and the niece who guards his files confirming it. A bombshell.

Since 2003 we have been calling attention to evidence that the photos may have been hoaxed, going from the inversion of the images of the UFO in different shots, to radical changes in background clouds while the elapsed time was claimed to be less than 20 seconds. In the years since then we have been ongoing on our research and found several new pieces of evidence, which will soon be presented in full.

Even so, the detail revealed by “Fantastico” and Bittencourt that the model used for the hoax was made up of two metallic spoons caught us by surprise – just as anyone else.


What a twist!

In another twist of the story, a little more than a day after the TV show aired, Barauna’s niece, through Jose Americo Medeiros, states that she actually didn’t confirm the hoax. And while some are already suggesting the TV show concocted the whole thing, one has to take all these statements with due caution.

I spoke with the responsible for the news report, Luiz Petry, an editor for more than a decade in one of the most viewed shows in the country. Petry has actually been the editor-in-chief of mostly all news reports about ufology from the beginning, being in close contact with researchers and knowing very well the field. And he stated very clearly that he stands by what has been aired: Barauna’s niece didn’t want to record an interview, but she did confirm the hoax to the TV show.

And while she is denying having said that, we still have Emilia Bittencourt’s clear statements of how she heard directly from Almiro Barauna how he hoaxed the photos. She may have more to say, and if she’s telling the truth, there may be other witnesses who also heard this story from Barauna, be they relatives or just close friends. Otherwise, her story, especially the details about how the hoax was accomplished may not hold up.

What we do know for certain is that Almiro Barauna did confess hoaxing a series of photos to fool a newspaper. And we are not talking about the “Mundo Ilustrado” humorous article where, four years before Trindade, he showed how to hoax flying saucer photos.

No, this was a confessed and deliberate hoax.


baraunatreasurehoax02“I sold a hoaxed story”

It was a spectacular success – and it was a trick”, says with a smile in his face Almiro Barauna on a video interview given in 1997 to Marco Antônio Petit, who sells it on a DVD. Barauna is referring to a series of four news reports about the alleged discovery of a buried treasure, complete with a chest and a skeleton.

We did this in agreement with Ubiratan Fernandes from ‘Cruzeiro’, Dalécio Vanderlei and another one. They were chatting on Cruzeiro that Calazans Fernandes [from ‘Tribuna da Imprensa’] was a very keen guy, that no one was able to fool” recalls Almiro.

I said ‘I will fool him’. I will make a trick and sell it to him. I did the trick and he bought it”, he says, again with a big smile in his face. “He then disliked me a lot”.

Barauna then say that Calazans, when the Trindade Island UFO photos showed up in 1958, tried to debunk him by publishing on ‘Tribuna da Imprensa’ details about his treasure chest trickery.

In fact, it was indeed a trick”, he admits once again. “But one thing had nothing to do with the other”, he concludes after thinking for a few moments.

You can see the subtitled video excerpt below, click on “cc” if the English subtitles don’t appear automatically.



Treasure chest hoax

Thanks to the work of historian Rodolpho Gauthier, you can see here three of the photos Barauna hoaxed for the treasure chest story. The alleged buried treasure in Espirito Santo was actually photographed in Saco de Sao Francisco in Niteroi, near his house, the skeleton was borrowed from the local Medical School and an old chest was used. Barauna himself appears in one of the photos, posing along with the hoaxed discovery.

By another amazing coincidence, besides having taught how to fake flying saucer photos shortly before Trindade, this fake tresure chest story was allegedly in Espirito Santo, but more precisely in Franceses Island. An island. Trindade Island, by the way, is also part of Espirito Santo state.

Another interesting coincidence is that as soon as he got authorization to sell the photos, he sold them to Diarios Associados, from the same folks of the Cruzeiro magazine with whom he concocted the treasure chest hoax. Cruzeiro magazine was also the responsible for the Barra da Tijuca hoax, which to end this series of coincidences in a full circle, was what Barauna was making fun of when he joked about how to create flying saucer photos.

But, there’s more. One could have the impression that Barauna revealed the treasure chest hoax shortly afterwards. But when the Trindade Island case reached the news in 1958, he stated to Jornal do Brasil:

Can you imagine, even that story about the treasure I photographed on Espirito Santo they say was blackmail”.

In 1997, Almiro Barauna, laughing a lot, finally admits that the treasure chest story was a hoax he photographed near his home, that “it was indeed a trick”. Did he confess the Trindade Island photos as a hoax to his family and friends? The bombshell may explode in stages. Or fizzle.


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[This story about Barauna’s treasure chest hoax had already been published in SUNlite in the beginning of the year. Now, with a video excerpt of the DVD “Caso Trindade” by Marco Antônio Petit, and the collaboration of Rodolpho Gauthier]

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