On October 19, Las Vegans will have the chance to get a semi-private lesson in the science and technology of hoax-debunking, when Ben Hansen and Ben McGee give their Area 51 lecture, “Investigating UFO Videos: The Hoaxes & The Truly Unexplained” at the National Atomic Testing Museum.
Hansen, the host and lead investigator of Syfy’s Fact or Faked: Paranormal Files, begins each episode by huddling with his team for a pitch session. They show photos and videos of incidents they’ve gathered, and together choose two to pursue for the show. During this exercise, certain (alleged) ghost, Bigfoot and UFO sightings are dismissed out of hand. The team cites factors that are obvious to them. For example: The “ghost” is a composite made by a video-production company.
To uneducated viewers, the tricks aren’t so obvious, which explains the need for shows such as Fact or Faked and McGee’s National Geographic series, Chasing UFOs. They deter would-be hoaxers, a population whose growth, Hansen says, has been facilitated by the accessibility of videotaping, editing and publishing technology.
Hansen and McGee will share their craft at the Las Vegas event. “Let’s say you get to a site where someone witnessed a crash,” Hansen says. “What are you looking for? What are clues to explain what people have seen?”
Although he’s broadened his investigative toolbox to include a wide range of skills, Hansen’s specialty is detecting deception. His bachelor’s degree in sociology (emphasis on criminology) led him to several law-enforcement posts, including one as a special agent for the FBI. There, he cultivated a keen eye for the cues that someone’s lying—a skill he’s spent years honing with cutting-edge techniques, such as neurolinguistic programming and layered voice analysis. McGee, meanwhile, is a geoscientist. He brings a healthy dose of skepticism to field analysis, eliminating possibilities by examining the physical evidence.
Does this mean UFO investigators depart from the assumption that every incident is faked? “No, not at all,” Hansen says. “I’ve had at least three sightings myself, and I found it difficult to believe they were all military phenomena, because of the level of sophistication of what I saw.”
On the other hand, he says, 95 percent of sightings are either hoaxed or not what the viewers think. The public benefits from the study of ufology only if proponents such as he and McGee are the harshest critics of what they see, subjecting each claim to the rigors of the discipline before presenting it to the world as a possibility.