Thursday, May 24, 2012

Rudy and Russo's Big Gullibility Experiment

This post, which includes video of UFO hoaxters exposing their own trickery, is actually an article I wrote for my Corrigendopedia website back in 2009, back before I even had my own computer.
` Since it is not only awesome, but requires absolutely no effort on my behalf, it's the perfect thing to post when I'm devoting absolutely no time to writing new posts. (Busy with school and a million other things -- but only until June.)
` This is it:

Some folks are fascinated by the fact that so many people can mistake, for example, a water bird for a lake monster (that is, until they see it fly away) or even believe that the well-known and simple deceptions of a cold reader are actually genuine psychic powers.
` In November of 2008, two friends in New Jersey were having a discussion to this effect. These friends, science teacher Joe Rudy and talented skeptic Chris Russo decided they needed to pull a stunt to help open people's eyes about such self-deceptions. According to their article in Skeptic magazine (Vol 15, No 1 2009);
We brainstormed the idea of producing a spaceship hoax to fool people, bring the charlatans out of the woodwork to drum up controversy, and then expose it as nothing more than a prank to show everyone how unreliable eyewitnesses accounts are, along with investigators of UFOs.

How to do it? Attach ordinary road flares to three-foot-diameter balloons via fishing wire and duct tape, inflate said balloons with helium under the cover of a wooded area between Hanover and Morris Plains, then let them go at fifteen-second intervals. Importantly, to demonstrate that they are not part of a government cover-up, as so many 'conspiracy theorists' would claim, Rudy and Russo would thoroughly video-document themselves doing so.
` The resulting 'Undentified Flare Object'-launching footage looks rather like this 'drawring' of mine, if you squint....
aug 126 Launching the Morristown Flares
Their first launch was on January 5, 2009, and was followed up by four more launches in January and February, each one receiving overwhelming attention from news outlets and conspiracy theorist networks alike.
` On top of this, Rudy and Russo pretended to be mystified eyewitnesses in a television appearance on News 12 New Jersey and a radio appearance on the conspiracy-promoting Jeff Rense Program, as well as a live appearance at a Mutual UFO Network (MUFON) symposium all the way over in Illinois! (To be fair, MUFON had recognized it as a hoax right away.)
` If that weren't enough, they also pretended to be dumbfounded about the results of their first launch on one small section of their documentary video, which they displayed both at the MUFON symposium and on the popular internet video site YouTube, garnering even more attention from all over the world!

Originally, I had embedded Rudy and Russo's videos just below, but had found that my test audience merely stopped to watch the videos and that was it, having no clue that I had written this huge article below that!
` So, for easy reference, you can either open the following video links in different tabs, or you can watch them at the end of the post, where I've embedded them.
` However, I should first mention that instead of showing these events happening in sequence, which appears to be their original intent, Rudy and Russo have separated their footage into three categories, which I've found to be somewhat disorienting.
Part 1 shows footage from before and after each launch, i.e. constructing the 'UFOs' and commentary,
(Part 1 can be seen here.)
Part 2 shows the launches themselves, including the clip they put on YouTube,
(Part 2 is here.)
and Part 3 contains reactions (mostly TV coverage) to said launches.
(Part 3 is found here.)

For those who are similarly disoriented by the arrangement of the footage, I've taken notes about each of the videos, arranged them a little more in-sequence, added my own commentary, then watched all three videos again in order to get my notes straight, and pasted it below. This is for your convenience and enjoyment, I hope, because that took several days' worth of my spare time!


At the beginning of Part 1, we see Chris Russo demonstrating that tying flares to his balloons does not keep them from floating away. He explains that he wants people to understand that; "It's okay to be skeptical" and that he is not trying to "prove or disprove anything" such as the existence of alien visitors, presumably.
` The focus of this experiment is on showing people how easily they can be deceived, for example, by the very objects Chris holds in his hands. Importantly, it is not meant to make fun of believers in alien UFOs, though those who believe the flares are alien activity may learn to call such judgment calls into question.

"Plain and simple," Chris says, "it's a gullibility experiment to see if we get a reaction out of people. There might be no reaction, we might get a huge reaction; hopefully we'll find out tomorrow."
 ` In Part 2, we are witness to Chris and Joe's January 5th launch of five balloons. As we see the last flare joining the other red lights in the sky, Chris makes a cell phone call, apparently to the NJ12 news affiliate, while Joe video-records the conversation.
` After telling whoever is on the other end that he couldn't get through to the police department, Chris explains; "...there are some really strange lights in the sky right now over Morristown, and it doesn't look like a plane or anything to me, it looks like five extremely bright lights, and I don't even know if I should be calling you guys or not about this, but it's something pretty impressive and I can not for the life of me figure out what it is."

I'm not surprised that he is the first to lie on camera -- oops! I mean, act! -- because Chris has had both acting and sales experience. That also seems to explain why Joe is the appointed cameraman.
` Then he says; "Ah, I can see my buddy has a camera, yeah, we'll try to get a picture for ya, whatever it is is unbelievably spectacular though... should we just call you back?"
` After he hangs up, we can hear Joe say; "Okay, should I turn this off and then record like we don't know what it is, to give 'em a video or something?"
"Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah!" says Chris, rabid with excitement.
` The next thing we see is the footage shown famously on YouTube: We're looking back up at the flares as they continue to float away. Joe can be heard saying in a bewildered tone, "It's too high to be a tower."
Chris' voice can be heard in an unnaturally high octave; "Yeah, it's definitely not a tower. They're in the middle of the sky."

A few reactions to the YouTube clip
On the YouTube site itself, I observed that some of the commenters mentioned the hoax while certain people said they thought this video was really an alien spaceship. (Or maybe it was all just a commenter's conspiracy? One can never really tell on the internet...)
` One commenter, JRCrowley, evidently thinks that this is a hoax, but apparently believes that something big and mysterious must be going on because some UFO sightings are still unexplained and asserts that Chris and Joe must be pompous jackasses for putting effort into confusing people rather than explaining the unexplained.
` In response, ndkid86heart wrote (badly, and I censored for profanitaric reasons):
wait..... you can look at this sh** and tell me that they're balloons? is that what you're agreeing to? if thats the case, you are in no position to tell me i'm dumb. you sir, are the sucker for believing that the government has your best interesting in mind when it comes to these types of issues. ... it sounds like a complete cover up.
Something tells me he hasn't seen the part of the video just prior to the YouTube clip.

...If these guys want to prove how smart they are, they have tons of recorded UFO cases to look through and see if they can explain them. I guarantee you they don't have 1/10th the scientific skill to prove them as being hoaxes or otherwise. Any monkey can fake a UFO. Even you.
Something else tells me that JR here is a wee bit offended. What Chris and Joe really want, of course, is to show how easily people can be taken advantage of by simple tricks, and that it isn't funny when it happens to you.

Then ndkid86heart said: said anyone can do this, well then show us how balloons can be made to fly in a synchronized pattern. yeah and i'm sure they really threw the book at these guys. don't be so stupid.

JR Crowley:
I don't need to prove them wrong. It's not a question of wrong or right. It's a question of how I want to spend my time. These guys are idiots, plain and simple. This is how idiots spend their time. ...
well why don't you do what these two idiots did and prove them wrong? if this was in fact a hoax, which i don't believe for a second, then why not replicate it exactly? why can't anyone use fu**ing LOGIC? balloons don't fly in formation !! ... but maybe thats what makes you feel more comfortable? believing the answer to be as simple as balloons. wake the fu** up, you mindless followers!
I wonder if ndkid actually bothered to look at the footage? Even more, I wonder what Chris and Joe think of this comment?

Then, I chipped in my two cents:
Joe Rudy and Chris Russo extensively documented the ENTIRE OPERATION so that if they got a response, people like you would have a chance to see how they made the things, etc. [lengthy explanation] ...PS Why would balloons in one air current move in different directions?
One would think that after my lengthy explanation, the next commenter would have seen it and thought to themselves; 'I'll have to check that out for myself!' Instead, this is the next comment after mine;

That looked quite weird, red lights in the sky...hmmmm. I dont know if its a UFO...or not...but it is interesting.
Luckily, the next commenter corrected Face2nutts, who responded with mild disappointment.

Meanwhile, on the local news...

At the beginning of Part 3, we see the immediate effect of Rudy and Russo's hoax. On the local CBS-2 news affiliate, we meet Paul Hurley, an airplane pilot who recorded and scrutinized the flares. The officials' 'best guess' was indeed correct; a prank involving road flares tied to helium balloons.
But then, Hurley said, they moved away quickly, "Like it took off. It was very strange."
 ` Say what? I've found other reports elsewhere in the news media that explicitly tell of the lights fizzling out one by one, as would be expected, so I think we can safely call Hurley's report into question.
He also mentioned that the control tower operators also could see them, but not on radar.

Now, that, I don't much doubt.

Back in Part 1, Chris and Joe are ecstatic at their success.

"The prank has worked beautifully," says Chris. "It's all over the news! News 12 New Jersey, Daily Record, MUFON the Mutual UFO Network, and you see other videos posted on YouTube, showing their interpretation of what it was... and their interpretation is a lot different than flares on balloons, so it's amazing how the mind works, it sees what it wants to see."
` Joe adds: "There was no extraterrestrial involvement at all."

On a Fox interview, the flares are described as a "Weird, unsettling sight."

I bet that one made Chris and Joe feel all warm and fuzzy inside, and eager for their next launch. That took place on January 29 -- same thing, this time with red balloons. I'm not sure which ones are which on the news, though. It would appear as if they are taken to be one big phenomenon. Which they are.
On another interview, this time on FOX, pilot Paul Hurley says that he knew they weren't airplanes. Well, he got that right -- sometimes it's the simple things that can look so mystifying.
` Another eyewitness says, on the local FOX-5 affiliate, "They looked very in-formation, like they had a purpose." That's an interesting point; back in Part 2, I noticed that the rising flares began to look in-formation as soon as the balloons were out of sight.
` Does she think it's a UFO? "It's possible. Why not?"

I would like to emphasize here that the implied meaning of 'UFO' is not 'Unidentified Flying Object,' but rather 'Alien Spacecraft' - it's obviously unidentified if they don't know what it is, right?
` So, yes, it is a UFO to many of the people we see interviewed, as they can't identify what they saw. And yet, to many of them, it was indeed a UFO in the sense that they were willing to identify it... as 'aliens'! The 'a-word' is also the response of a young girl, who looks like (might be?) Paul Hurley's daughter, who pointed out the lights to him while he was helping her with her homework.
` Now this is amusing -- a guy-on-the-street eyewitness describes how Chris and Joe's Unidentified Flare Objects "Sort of streaked down toward New York, and the final one just kinda went 'blip!' Disappeared!"
` "Blip?" says the journalist.
` "Yeah, I'd say, 'blip.'"

Chris and Joe play the role of stunned observers!
Joe tells the News-12 reporter that the flares he filmed "zipped over our car" and that they "seemed to ascend and descend in a sequence, almost."
` "It's nothing like anything I've ever seen before," says Chris, pretending not to have held the balloons in his hands, "so I would like to see someone tell me what it was, because I cannot tell you what it was."
` While another eyewitness said he saw flares tied to balloons, Joe gave the description that they "would rise up slowly and dip down."
` UFO reporter Peter Davenport explained that the lights could not be "affixed to any kind of conventional or terrestrial aircraft."
` Well, I can give him this; they certainly aren't conventional....
` Though one officer was sure he saw flares tied to balloons through binoculars, Chris stated "from what we saw, no way..." because they "zipped over our car."
` Of course, we know that in Part 2, we can watch Chris and Joe creating more Unidentified Flare Objects in January and February, presumably with their car safely parked half a mile away.

It seems so simple, yet a sensational mystery attracts viewers. Back in Part 3, Paul Hurley appears once again, this time with his wife, on a FOX news program. Perpetuating the mystery, Paul says, "I don't know what to make of it." Unlike the Phoenix lights, he says, they couldn't have been flares because "there was no smoke."
` Again, I think back to Chris and Joe releasing the lit flares from their half-frozen fingers, the moving lights making the still-tied UFOs-to-be appear as otherworldly bubbles passing in the night. Though the smoke was visible up close, it was not apparent as the flares moved away.
` Next on The FOX Report, a national news program, we have a satirical comparison of the Morristown lights with the Phoenix lights, ending with; "...So, better keep watching the sky in case aliens show up... to attack us with road flares. Go Jersey."

It gets even better: UFO Hunters

If all this TV news coverage wasn't enough, Chris and Joe were most proud that their flares had 'made it' as a Special Report promotion for UFO Hunters, a program on the History Channel that is infamous for its amazingly high hyperbole content.
` Here, from behind his usual dark glasses, host Bill Birnes interviews eyewitness Dr. George van Orden, a guy with an impressive-sounding name, who said Chris and Joe's flare formation "had to be four, five, six times the size of a jet plane." He's right -- although he seems to imply that the lights had actually been attached to one other.
` After this, Birnes interviews --guess who? -- Paul Hurley, who describes what was seen by those in the control tower, his words greatly emphasized by the melodramatic soundtrack: "I see the lights, I don't know what they are, we're not talking to them."
` Generally, flares hanging from balloons don't have much to say.

On the next UFO HuntersSpecial Report segment, the flare idea (actually from a previous case), is questioned by saying, "UFO Hunters has already tested and proven implausible."
` What was the test? The 2-second clip we see appears to show some flares swinging wildly back and forth while suspended from sinking and not-very-taut-looking balloons. I would hazard a guess that someone made sure the balloons were not inflated enough to carry the flares, then threw them up in the air and videotaped them as they slowly fell to earth.
` In any case, it seems obvious that whoever did this was not interested in testing this idea, but instead was eager to make sure it wouldn't work.

Myself, I have seen demonstrations in which objects at least as heavy as road flares do float smoothly upwards when attached to those three-foot balloons (one of them live and in person), and then of course we have Chris and Joe's demonstrations. Thus, it would seem that the UFO Hunters have failed only because they tried to.
` Which reminds me of Part 1, where Chris explains after the first launch that they had run out of helium only three balloons into it, and had to drive back into town for more, adding that; "Even amateurs can pull off a good prank every now and then."

Back on the UFO Hunters promo, Bill Birnes says the lights look "rigid", and you can "almost see a frame." Joe and/or Chris has added a text crawl; 'Maybe you should take those sunglasses off, Bill.'
` In their Skeptic article (How We Staged the Morristown UFO Hoax), Joe and Chris write;

Bill Birnes, the lead investigator of the show and the publisher of UFO Magazine declared definitively that the Morristown UFO could not have been flares or Chinese lanterns. Surely Birnes, who has written and edited over 25 books and encyclopedias in the fields of human behavior, true crime, current affairs, history, psychology, business, computing, and the paranormal, and the co-author of The Day After Roswell (a New York Times bestseller in 1997 and subsequently a documentary on the History Channel), could not have let himself be fooled by a couple of twenty-somethings with no formal education in psychology.

Though Birnes later refuted that he 'declared definitively' that they were not flares, he sure didn't seem to suspect any kind of a hoax on his highly influential UFO Hunters promos. Which leads one to wonder whether Bill is easily fooled into thinking that other known phenomena are strange and mysterious, or even that he deliberately acts as if they are in order to lead his viewers on.
` Not only did they try to make the flares idea seem ridiculous, they didn't even bother to interview anyone who was close enough to see that they were flares. Come to think of it, the news programs didn't do a good job of that, either. Instead, UFO Hunters actively worked to discount the idea.

That tells me that they were after the sensationalism of a 'mystery' -- and this is hardly an isolated case. After all, it isn't as if those in charge of the History Channel are above boosting their ratings at the expense of factual content - it's business as usual for them. That, however, is a whole other article.

And this, I think, ties in nicely with what is next on Part 3 -- some televised 9-1-1 calls about 'red dots' in the sky.
` Think about this: why do people call 9-1-1 when they see something strange? Because they don't know what they're looking at! If they had known that they were looking at flares on balloons, they probably wouldn't have freaked out and report an emergency. If they'd known what was going on, they could have said; "Hey, some wiseguy tied flares to balloons! Look out below!"
` But on news programs, especially ones who would preferably keep viewers tuned in, eyewitnesses of unfamiliar sights can paradoxically be interviewed as implied experts in order to drag out 'mysteries'.
` Take for example 9-1-1 caller, Ray Vargas, who said on NJ-12 that "if it's a hoax, it's a real good hoax, because there wasn't no flares, no streaks... it's almost as if they were communicating with each other."
` If the producers actually cared about solving the case, they would actually try to figure out what it was instead of milk the phenomenon for the ratings. Right?

Selling cars with aliens!

Later on, Chris and Joe go to the Red Light Aliens special at the Warnock car dealership the day after seeing a newspaper advertisement with slogans like 'savings heard around the universe!' Smartly dressed, Chris can be seen entering the dealership (bedecked with Little Green, Blue and Purple Humanoids), eager to 'experience the W Files!'
` Since the employees would rather not sign waivers for Chris and Joe's 'UFO Documentary', Joe points the camera at his feet and leaves it rolling.
` We can hear the employees scoffing at the suggestion that the lights are flares, along with the perpetrators themselves. (Is there an award for acting on Google Video?)
` According to whoever was working there, the lights were moving against the wind. From one guy's backyard, they could see that "they were absolutely not flares, 'cause they went right over our building. I've used flares, I've lit flares, there was no smoke, absolutely not."
` Did anyone have an opinion as to what it was?
` Answer; "No, we were all stoned."
` But, in any case; "I can tell you, there's no way it was flares. I just don't believe that. Not a chance."
The employees were very nice, though, and even let Joe take an inflatable Little Green Man home with him. As Chris exits the dealership building, he announces, "As you can see, the bullsh** is getting thicker and deeper," while gesturing to a black 'squad car' with its lights flashing, sporting decals for the National Office of Research, Measurement and Alien Location (N.O.R.M.A.L.).
` "Maybe the aliens are drawing customers." he says. "We're happy somebody's making money off of it!"

Their final thoughts:

Chris: "What we set out to do, we think we accomplished; showing the gullibility of... human beings."
` Joe: "It's important to note... that we did this more for educational reasons than for... fame or money, really. We were trying to prove a point that most people are gullible, and when it comes to specifically UFOs, people are gonna see a UFO if they want to see a UFO."
` Chris: "Absolutely... the whole point is to promote critical thinking... and apply this to anything in life. ...Whether it's spiritual mediums claiming they can talk to the dead. You know, are they really contacting your loved ones or are they simply throwing out buzzwords until something catches on? ... If psychics were really doing their job, don't you think they'd warn people of horrible events like 9/11 or any kind of terror attacks?
` "...Life is beautiful. We don't need all the fairy tale and make believe."

The last we see is a night-time skyline, and the last we hear is a woman's voice with a Long Island-ish accent (as she apparently fiddles with binoculars), and a man's voice, probably belonging to whoever is videotaping the skyline.
` "They're floating apart," says the man, "I think they're flares."
` "Oh, don't be ridiculous." says the woman. "Flares! Flares! Don't you see that they're saucers? Take these damn things and look!"

Brian Donohue interviews Chris and Joe 

After Chris and Joe revealed themselves publicly in the April 1, 2009 edition of eSkeptic, they were busted. Though the police were not amused, the skeptical community had more favorable reactions. And thus, I thought I'd add another video, which has an added bonus of being really hip!
` Standing in the middle of their very own launch site, Chris and Joe explain to journalist Brian Donohue that what they did was not merely a childish prank, but rather an attempt to teach people to think critically in order to prevent themselves from getting taken in by frauds and hoaxes (and I might add, true believers who already have been taken in).
Ledger Live: Morris UFO hoaxsters tell their story

OH NO!! The rest of this article has been cut off! [This happened when the web page was forcibly moved from Google Pages to Google Sites because something went wrong with the formatting around the embedding of the video -- which was originally from the news website and not YouTube.]

WHERE DID IT GO? Maybe aliens took it? ;) *Gasp!* It's a conspiracy! I think it has to do with the html code for that video, which is the stopping point! I'll be in sometime to fix this problem!

Also, shortly after I first posted this article, Rudy and Russo both emailed me, separately, and thought my page was pretty good, so I should really get to work reconstructing it, huh?

The end of the article had something to do with their day in court and the judge being very disappointed in them, and thinking that they should know better than to clutter airspace with potential hazards.
` Of course, I haven't gotten around to reconstructing it -- back then, my life was too crazy, and currently there is very little time for that -- but I shall eventually, when I get back to constructing the Corrigendopedia website.
` Really, I was angry that the end of the article was lost forever, presumably (couldn't remember the URL for the Wayback Machine), and would have to write it again, but at least it wasn't a very substantial loss.

However, I have at least filled the space here by embedding Rudy and Russo's videos down here:

Part 1 -- Testing, setup, and discussion:

Part 2 -- Perpetrating the hoax under cover of darkness -- at least when not lit by flares:

Part 3 -- The media fallout:

Hope you enjoyed the videos as much as my article about this whole sequence of events! Rudy and Russo did -- that is why I've long been Facebook 'friends' with them!

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