The Skeptical Believer by John Shirley
by John Shirley

Whenever I'm about to write about the UFO field, I somehow feel I have to explain, in a paraphrase of the Cowardly Lion: "I do, I do, I do believe in...UFOs." I mean, yeah, I do. I think there's something there, in some cases. I don't exclude the ExtraTerrestrial Hypothesis, okay? I merely want to use deduction, deducting the demonstrably bogus to get at the truth; I'd like to exclude all the conceptual "noise" in ufology so we can get a clear signal. And I just get so damn frustrated with the field. Surely, I say to myself, they won't believe that bullshit artist. (Insert your favorite UFO bullshit artist there. Travis Walton?)

I recently read about Reverse Speech, sort of in passing. I laughed and shook my head. The Aussie chap promoting this won't get anywhere with this horseshit, I said to myself, with my usual ingenuous faith in human nature. A little while later I published a piece attempting to explain Roswell as an urban myth. One reader responded that I had failed to take into account the "evidence" provided by Reverse Speech. Then I go to the Sightings on the Radio website (I do love that site, because it's all there, the hoakum as well as the stuff that just might be real, and it's updated often) and they're obviously taking seriously "Researcher" David John Oates' claim that he's used Reverse Speech to expose a disinformation agent. Well, the site is very, you know, open ended. But there are other inklings that people out there believe this stuff, and -

I am astounded.

I'm just amazed at the stuff that otherwise intelligent people fall for, and Reversed Speech may yet bring me to the shining pinnacle of amazement.

In reversed speech, you see, you record someone talking, then you play it backwards, and you hear another message in the backward noise, because (so we're told by RS's premiere salesman, Mr Oates) we're speaking backwards at the same time as we're speaking forwards, but unconsciously, you know: " we speak consciously, the brain is generating messages arising from the unconscious. These messages occur constantly throughout language and can be heard very clearly at least every 10 to 15 seconds by simply playing a recording of normal speech in reverse..." Paul, you dig, is dead.

Let's leave aside the fact that Oates, at his website, tells us nothing of his academic background, if he has any. Let's leave aside his designating himself a "hypnotherapist", a field which is in itself rank with ludicrous claims. Let's put to one side the obvious: that when you listen to the gibberish resulting from playing a tape backwards, you will inevitably hear all kinds of familiar sounds, since it is made up of human vocalization, and the rorschach-inkblot effect, just mentally filtering out what doesn't fit your agenda, will let you imagine you hear messages. Let's ignore the other gibberish here, the counterfeit quality of the pseudo-scientific sounding short explanations at the Reverse Speech site as to how the method works.

Leave that aside. Instead of going down that tiresome road, let's just read the following inspiring message from Mr Oates: "I am about to present to you a set of Keys that will unlock the mind, lay the human soul bare, and open up a doorway to the infinite...a reliable and concise method to access, hear and alter the blueprints of Mankind and to gain conscious control of our evolution, possibly for the very first time..."

Is this method the e-meter, perhaps?

No, it's reverse speech. It does all that. It also, he says, "describes the state of the human soul and our relationship with God."

Elsewhere in his site Mr Oates says he can't understand why, when he's taken all this to universities and scientists, they refuse to even look at his evidence. It's because they're not naive, Mr Oates. It's the same reason they don't buy a ten dollar Rolex from a guy at a card table set up on Times Square. They don't squander their time going to get a Rolex expert to examine the cheap, tacky little watch and confirm that it's a fake. They simply walk past the card table. And scientists don't squander precious research time on people who say that their backward tape recordings "lay the human soul bare and open up a doorway to the infinite". Now, if Mr Oates had said, "I have found some indications that there may be a correlation between some previously-unnoticed sounds found in a reversed recording of human speech and unconscious states of mind", some researchers might listen. I doubt there's even that much to it, but they might look to see, just in case. But when he claims his method "describes our relationship with God" anyone with any experience in the world will instantly detect a tone, a manner, an approach, characteristic of the would-be cult leader, or at least a con artist working with silly, fuzzy New Age hyperbole.

Let's look at the small print on the site: "Reverse speech (TradeMark sign) and its associated technologies have been developed solely by...David John Oates who claims all ownership rights pertaining to these techniques. These rights include, but are not limited to, ownership of the trademark Reverse Speech, all intellectual property rights for theories and analysis techniques of reverse speech..." etc. I wonder if Carl Jung or Adler or Freud or Aristotle, for that matter, copyrighted and trademarked their analysis techniques? Can one own an analysis technique? It's probably important to you to own it if your analysis technique represents a commodity that you are selling. " is strongly suggested that you purchase a copy of David Oates' book: 'Reverse Speech: Voices from the Unconscious:'. Please visit our Products Section." Conveniently click right there for the Products Section, where you find seminars, tapes, etc etc etc. Things for sale. Lots and lots of things for sale.

If it looks like a used car salesman, sounds like a used car salesman, and smells like one, then, well...

Richard Hoagland, apparently, believes in Reverse Speech - here's a guy, after all, who's used to seeing patterns where he wants to see them; faces on Mars, artificial spires on the Moon. Hoagland apparently "confronted Greg Beal" with the reverse speech analysis and Beal, who'd claimed, as "Kent", to have seen color photos of the ruins of a Martian city, "broke down and confessed that he was working for a disinformation unit in the Defense Intelligence Agency". So we've got a fellow here, Beal, who made a bullshit, unsubstantiated claim in the first place - and now he makes another one, getting him another kind of attention (or possibly he is a shill cooperating with the stage magician, Mr Oates); we're supposed to be dazzled when he makes one absurd claim, then another.

Mr Oates' reversal messages, if the ones that come from Kent/Beal are representative, are totally open to interpretation (if they exist at all to an objective listener - and I doubt it): A forward statement, "He said, It doesn't matter, you should have put the picture back in there. (he said) we don't need the American public looking at these pictures" becomes (supposedly), with reversal: "You see lamb beside the scene/They see it on you. Been naughty when they grabbed the ship". Right, you can clearly see what that means, can't you? Oates can, anyway.

Compare Oates to Derrel Sims.

I read somewhere that Derrel Sims used to sell a kind of super-hypnotic instantaneous method for "learning martial arts in ten minutes". Sims turned you into a blackbelt instantly. Just pay him and he'd do it. Once something like this becomes known about a guy, you'd think that people would say, simply: "Since he was hawking this obvously bogus instant martial arts, he is, therefore, not likely to be trustworthy. Hence his claims about UFOs can't be trusted either." I mean, the guy claimed to have fought hand to hand with an alien. That's so ludicrous, coupled with the past in fraud, people of course will no longer take him seriously, right? But he continues to be asked to lecture about UFOs at MUFON meetings and elsewhere.

Oates claims that by listening to tapes of speech played backwards he can - if you pay him enough - analyze your very soul. To me, this has the same quality as the instant martial arts course.

It all has a particular quality: Absurdly high expectations generated from a bold and striking sales speech with magical overtones. Stand in the right colored lights, other people claim, and you'll be cured of cancer. They really can make it sound good, too. But you're wise to that, sure, most of us are. We listen to ads for 1-900 "psychics" on TV and we see a quality about them, a little patter that sounds good, some apparent "testimony", and we sneer when we see people taken in by it. But just make the same technique a little more technical sounding, use the magic word "therapist", invoke vague spirituality buzzwords, and apply it to something involving machinery, reverse speech - and for some reason the same old snake oil seems credible to the very person who sneered at the TV psychic.

If there was ever a field that desperately needed common sense, it is ufology. UFOs - and any aspect of the paranormal. If you don't step back and use common sense - you will be used, yourself, by the users who're always waiting in the wings...

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