The Hack and the Quack

The "Phoenix Lights" made Frances Emma Barwood the darling of the global space-alien lobby. And it'stransformed computer geek Jim Dilettoso into a star in the UFO firmament.

"All Dilettoso is doing is extracting a brightness profile. It makes no statement about frequency distribution. What he's getting his knickers in a twist about is he's heard the term 'spatial frequency' and he's confusing it," Scowen says. "He's getting his terms mixed up. He knows the words, but he doesn't understand the concepts behind them."

Scowen notes that when Dilettoso is asked about the limitations of camcorders and videotape, he repeatedly responds: "It's all I've got."

"He's not saying the rest--that it's insufficient," Scowen says.
Curious graduate students peek over Scowen's shoulders, shaking their heads at the videotapes of the Phoenix Lights and Dilettoso's claims about them.

"Nobody asks astronomers to take a look at these images. And that's what we do for a living," says Ph.D. candidate Steve Mutz.

Professor Rogier Windhorst walks in and asks what his students are poring over. Someone tells him Dilettoso claims to be doing spectral analysis from videotape.

"Oh, you can't do that. It's bullshit," Windhorst barks.
"It's a consensus now," Mutz says with a laugh.

Among the true believers, Jim Dilettoso makes even more surprising claims. At the Seventh Annual International UFO Congress, Dilettoso compared the Phoenix Lights to other UFO sightings through the years and in many parts of the globe.

"If we theorize that the lights are intelligently guided, or perhaps that the lights are perhaps the intelligences themselves, we might find that this new activity is unrelated to disc-shaped flying saucers. . . . It may be that these are light-beings," Dilettoso told his audience.

To the press, Dilettoso's careful not to make such outrageous claims. He and his partner, Michael Tanner, instead disseminate a confusing seven-page summary of the many accounts of the 8:30 vee formation, and rather than deduce that different witnesses interpreted the same phenomenon in different ways (which humans have a tendency to do), they suggest that Arizonans actually saw different gigantic triangular crafts at different times and different places. Mitch Stanley is mentioned in a single line: "An amateur astronomer in Phoenix [actually Scottsdale] wrote it off as a formation of conventional airplanes."

As for the 10 p.m. event, Dilettoso asserts that his video analyses tell him flares could not possibly be what Mike Krzyston and others captured on videotape, saying, "I don't know what they were. I just know that they weren't flares."

A credulous media, more interested in hyping the Phoenix Lights mystery rather than taking a sober look at the evidence, have repeatedly broadcast those claims. The Discovery Channel, in its October 26 program UFO's Over Phoenix, reported the results of Dilettoso's "high-tech sophisticated optical analysis" as if they were fact.

To its credit, the Discovery Channel did perform another, and apparently solid, test to the flare hypothesis. The network submitted Krzyston's footage to Dr. Leonid Rudin at the Pasadena image-processing firm Cognitech. Rudin was also given a daytime shot from Krzyston's yard showing the distant Sierra Estrella, which is invisible in the nighttime video. Rudin matched the day and night shots frame by frame, lining them up on a distant ridge. The result: an animation loop showing that the flares are not only above the Estrella, but blink out as they reach the top of the mountains, precisely as distant flares would.

In a "10-Files" episode, KSAZ Channel 10, however, questioned the Cognitech analysis. Krzyston insists to Channel 10 that the objects were hovering below the Estrella ridgeline and couldn't have fallen behind the mountains. Channel 10 suggested cryptically that Cognitech purposely faked its test--"Has the footage been altered? And by whom and why? The mystery continues"--and showed its own test, which a Channel 10 production man claimed took "not long at all," proving that the 10 p.m. lights in Krzyston's video were well below the Estrella ridgeline.

New Times asked Scowen to perform the test himself, using two frames grabbed from Krzyston's original video and a 35 mm daytime photo taken from Krzyston's yard by UFO researcher Dick Motzer. After a half-hour of careful scaling, positioning, and rotation with imaging software, Scowen found a good match for the ridge visible in both shots. His results: The flares are just above the Estrella ridgeline or right at it, just as Rudin at Cognitech had found.

Afterward, Scowen was shown the "10-Files" episode and its claim that Channel 10 matched the frames quickly. He wonders how they could have checked several parameters in only a short time. "You have to make sure that the zoom is set the same way. If it's a standard camcorder, there's no numeric readout of the zoom. . . . Did the guy at Channel 10 match the scale? My guess is that he just laid the two pictures on top of each other."

Rod Haberer, producer of the "10-Files" piece, says that he's "comfortable with what we put on the air." But when he's asked what software the station used to match and scale the daytime and nighttime shots, he admits that they didn't use a computer at all. Channel 10 simply laid one image from Krzyston's video atop another in a digital editing machine.

Scowen says it doesn't surprise him. "We're used to dealing with this with the lay public. People do the minimum until they get the answer they want. In science you have to go back and check and recheck to make sure you're correct. I think Cognitech did a great job," Scowen says.

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