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The Truth Behind Area 51
Area 51 has long been a treasure trove for conspiracy theorists. Now a new book delivers some bombshell claims about the world's most famous and secretive military installation.
Area 51 is a military installation located in Nevada that is so veiled in secrecy that its actual existence has never been officially acknowledged. Not surprisingly, this mysterious base has long been a treasure trove for conspiracy theorists. Claims have been made that the facility stores aliens and is the site where the lunar landing hoax was filmed.
A new book argues Area 51 was, in fact, set up by the U.S. government to keep the country safe and prevent nuclear war. The facility's purpose was not to hide aliens from the public, but to function as a "test facility working to move science and technology faster and further than any other nation." The Los Angeles Times national security reporter Annie Jacobsen's Area 51: An Uncensored History of America's Top Secret Military Base is the first book on Area 51 that is based on eyewitness accounts and recently declassified documents. Jacobsen presents a thorough and level-headed history that includes revelations about controversial black operations and secret weapons development programs at the facility. And yet, in the process of debunking a long list of conspiracy theories, Jacobsen drops a bombshell of her own.
What's the Big Idea?
All of the conspiracy theories involving Area 51 go back to one seminal event: a flying saucer evidently crashed in Roswell, New Mexico in 1947. Jacobsen argues the saucer was not piloted by extraterrestrials, as some would have us believe, but rather, by 13-year old Russian children whose bodies had been surgically re-engineered by Nazi scientists to make them look like aliens. These human guinea pigs were sent to America on Josef Stalin's orders as an act of "black propaganda." Apparently Stalin--who wasn't able to compete with the U.S. in nuclear weaponry--was hoping to instead cause mass panic, much in the same way the American public reacted to Orson Welles's 1938 radio broadcast "War of the Worlds."
You got all that?
This story obviously raises many more questions than it answers, including questions about Jacobsen's sources. While her book features interviews with dozens of eyewitnesses, Jacobsen's most scintillating claim relies on a single anonymous source.
So why have other witnesses not come forward? Jacobsen poses this question herself. For instance, why didn't the Truman administration expose Stalin's inhuman cruelty to the world, an act that certainly would have served the U.S. Cold War propaganda effort quite well? The answer, as Jacobsen's source revealed in yet another bombshell, is that the U.S. was doing the same thing--conducting human experiments with deadly results all the way up until the 1980s.
What's the Significance?
The exact nature of the experiments that may have gone on at Area 51 remains a tantalizing mystery. And yet, these claims, if true, would certainly undermine the moral authority of the U.S. government and invite comparisons to Josef Mengele (the Nazi doctor who, Jacobsen claims, made a deal with Stalin and committed the ghastly horrors to the children found in the Roswell crash).
There is also a separate issue at stake in Jacobsen's argument. While it is a common practice for journalists to use unnamed sources in stories, it is a thorny issue no less. One need only be reminded of Judith Miller's live-by-your-sources die-by-your-sources misadventure with Ahmad Chalabi that was so central to The New York Times coverage of the Bush administration's claims that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. On the other hand, Nixon likely would have filled out his second term and Woodward and Burnstein would still be working the Metro desk if it weren't for Deep Throat.
It should not be all that surprising, especially given the intense secrecy surrounding Area 51, that the most dramatic and damning revelation in Jacobsen's book was conveyed by an unnamed source. What matters is how this type of revelation is verified and presented. Jacobsen takes some pains to explain the circumstances of how she learned the information, and even shifts the point of view of her narrative to the first person in order to walk us through the process she took as a journalist in reporting the story. You will have to read her book to decide for yourself.
In her recent interview with Big Think, Jacobsen talked about the veracity of her source's account, the battle for truth in the digital age, and the lessons that can be drawn from her story about government secrecy and the need for transparency.
Big Think: In today's digital society, where completely unsubstantiated rumors often gain enormous traction on the Internet (e.g. Obama is a Muslim), what does it mean to set the record straight? How can we make sure that factual information wins the day?
Annie Jacobsen: When writing a non-fiction book, an author annotates their work in an end section called "Notes." There, readers can learn where information is sourced from. To report my book, in addition to reading thousands of pages of declassified documents, I interviewed 74 men with rare, direct access to Area 51. Thirty-two of these men lived and worked at Area 51 for extended periods of time. For all but one source, I use the mens' real names. Reporters often use unnamed sources who speak on the condition of anonymity because those individuals are not authorized to speak in an official capacity.
BT: The bombshell at the end of your book is that a flying disc really did crash in New Mexico and its crew were surgically re-engineered children that Stalin had sent to the U.S. in the hope they would be mistaken as visitors from Mars. It was an act of so-called "black propaganda," and the reason why Area 51 was made secret. This is obviously very difficult for many people to believe. How were you able to determine that your source is credible on this account? How can you convince the public that such a story is true based on a single anonymous source?
AJ: The source is credible. I stand by the veracity of his account. I interviewed him for what has now been over two years and found his recollections of former, top secret projects -- ones that could be fact-checked -- to be precise. I also examined his military service record and his work for the Atomic Energy Commission contractor, for which he received many awards and citations of excellence. He was a member of the Manhattan Project immediately after the war. He was involved in nuclear weapons testing across three decades and worked with America's most famous nuclear scientists and engineers. He had nothing to gain by telling me what he witnessed, other than his desire to clear his conscience and set the record straight.
BT: What lessons can be drawn from the example of Area 51 about government secrecy today? In other words, you explain how government secrecy often creates suspicion. What does this say about the need for transparency in a democratic society?
AJ: The Atomic Energy Commission (now called the Department of Energy) and the CIA have been two of the biggest players at Area 51 and they keep secrets under different systems of control. The CIA is governed by presidential executive orders and its secrets are called national security information. The Atomic Energy Commission has a system of secret keeping that runs totally separate from the president’s system. In other words, the nuclear agency maintains a parallel body of secrets classified based on factors other than presidential executive orders. It is from the Atomic Energy Act of 1946 that the concept “born classified” came to be. Even more problematic is the Atomic Energy Commission’s “Restricted Data” classification, which allows secrets to originate outside the government through the “thinking and research of private parties.” Academics argue that this system gives the AEC "unanswerable authority” and I agree.
BT: How does this story inform our current debate about information in the age of Wikileaks? (Or what lessons does it teach us that might inform a decision such as whether or not to release a photo of Osama bin Laden's body?)
AJ: Most contemporary programs involving national security are classified when they are happening for good reason. It's why reporters don't publish U.S. troop movements. But as we know from history, some programs are kept classified decades after they happen because they were shameful and because they ran counter to democratic ideals. In my book, I write of several such programs. As a reporter, I believe transparency is important particularly when it shines light on wrongs from the past. Transparency is a hallmark of democracy and there is much to learn from past mistakes.
UPDATE 6/7/11, 12:17PM EST: After negotiating with Jacobsen and her source, an ABC News crew met with the unnamed source and claim to have found discrepancies in the story, which they confronted Jacobsen with in this video here. Another of Jacoben's sources that ABC spoke to, TD Barnes, pushed back against her story as well, claiming he and others are outraged by the book's claims.
A new study finds that dogs fed fresh human-grade food don't need to eat—or do their business—as much.
- Most dogs eat a diet that's primarily kibble.
- When fed a fresh-food diet, however, they don't need to consume as much.
- Dogs on fresh-food diets have healthier gut biomes.
Four diets were tested<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTU5ODI1MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1NjY0NjIxMn0._w0k-qFOC86AqmtPHJBK_i-9F5oVyVYsYtUrdvfUxWQ/img.jpg?width=980" id="1b1e4" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="87937436a81c700a8ab3b1d763354843" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1440" data-height="960" />
Credit: AntonioDiaz/Adobe Stock<p>The researchers tested refrigerated and fresh human-grade foods against kibble, the food most dogs live on. The <a href="https://frontierpets.com.au/blogs/news/how-kibble-or-dry-dog-food-is-made" target="_blank">ingredients</a> of kibble are mashed into a dough and then extruded, forced through a die of some kind into the desired shape — think a <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Food_extrusion" target="_blank">pasta maker</a>. The resulting pellets are sprayed with additional flavor and color.</p><p>For four weeks, researchers fed 12 beagles one of four diets:</p><ol><li>a extruded diet — Blue Buffalo Chicken and Brown Rice Recipe</li><li>a fresh refrigerated diet — Freshpet Roasted Meals Tender Chicken Recipe</li><li>a fresh diet — JustFoodforDogs Beef & Russet Potato Recipe</li><li>another fresh diet — JustFoodforDogs Chicken & White Rice Recipe.</li></ol><p>The two fresh diets contained minimally processed beef, chicken, broccoli, rice, carrots, and various food chunks in a canine casserole of sorts. </p><p>(One can't help but think how hard it would be to get finicky cats to test new diets. As if.)</p><p>Senior author <a href="https://ansc.illinois.edu/directory/ksswanso" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Kelly S. Swanson</a> of U of I's Department of Animal Sciences and the Division of Nutritional Sciences, was a bit surprised at how much better dogs did on people food than even refrigerated dog chow. "Based on past research we've conducted I'm not surprised with the results when feeding human-grade compared to an extruded dry diet," he <a href="https://aces.illinois.edu/news/feed-fido-fresh-human-grade-dog-food-scoop-less-poop" target="_blank">says</a>, adding, "However, I did not expect to see how well the human-grade fresh food performed, even compared to a fresh commercial processed brand."</p>
Tracking the effect of each diet<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTU5ODI1OC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY3NjY1NTgyOX0.AdyMb8OEcjCD6iWYnXjToDmcnjfTSn-0-dfG96SIpUA/img.jpg?width=980" id="da892" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="880d952420679aeccd1eaf32b5339810" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1440" data-height="960" />
Credit: Patryk Kosmider/Adobe Stock<p>The researchers tracked the dogs' weights and analyzed the microbiota in their fecal matter.</p><p>It turned out that the dogs on kibble had to eat more to maintain their body weight. This resulted in their producing 1.5 to 2.9 times the amount of poop produced by dogs on the fresh diets.</p><p>Says Swanson, "This is consistent with a 2019 National Institute of Health study in humans that found people eating a fresh whole food diet consumed on average 500 less calories per day, and reported being more satisfied, than people eating a more processed diet."</p><p>Maybe even more interesting was the effect of fresh food on the gut biome. Though there remains much we don't yet know about microbiota, it was nonetheless the case that the microbial communities found in fresh-food poo was different.</p><p>"Because a healthy gut means a healthy mutt," says Swanson, "fecal microbial and metabolite profiles are important readouts of diet assessment. As we have shown in <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jas/article/92/9/3781/4702209#110855647" target="_blank">previous studies</a>, the fecal microbial communities of healthy dogs fed fresh diets were different than those fed kibble. These unique microbial profiles were likely due to differences in diet processing, ingredient source, and the concentration and type of dietary fibers, proteins, and fats that are known to influence what is digested by the dog and what reaches the colon for fermentation."</p>
How did kibble take over canine diets?<p>Historically, dogs ate scraps left over by humans. It has only been <a href="https://www.thefarmersdog.com/digest/the-history-of-commercial-pet-food-a-great-american-marketing-story/" target="_blank">since 1870</a>, with the arrival of the luxe Spratt's Meat Fibrine Dog Cakes—made from "the dried unsalted gelatinous parts of Prairie Beef", mmm—that commercial dog food began to take hold. Dog bone-shaped biscuits first appeared in 1907. Ken-L Ration dates from 1922. Kibble was first extruded in 1956. Pet food had become a great way to turn <a href="https://www.dogfoodadvisor.com/choosing-dog-food/animal-by-products/" target="_blank">human-food waste</a> into profit.</p><p>Commercial dog food became the norm for most household canines only after a massive marketing campaign led by a group of dog-food industry lobbyists called the Pet Food Institute in 1964. Over time, for most households, dog food was what dogs ate — what else? Human food? These days more than half of U.S. dogs are <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/03/magazine/who-made-that-dog-biscuit.html" target="_blank">overweight or obese</a>, and certainly their diet is a factor.<span></span></p><p>We're not so special among animals after all. If something's healthy for us to eat—we're <em>not</em> looking at you, chocolate—maybe we should remember to share with our canine compatriots. Not from the table, though.</p>
New study suggests the placebo effect can be as powerful as microdosing LSD.
- New research from Imperial College London investigated the psychological effects of microdosing LSD in 191 volunteers.
- While microdosers experienced beneficial mental health effects, the placebo group performed statistically similar to those who took LSD.
- Researchers believe the expectation of a trip could produce some of the same sensations as actually ingesting psychedelics.
Psychedelics: The scientific renaissance of mind-altering drugs<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="92360c805fe66c11de38a75b0967f417"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/5T0LmbWROKY?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>For the study published in eLife, the team recruited 191 citizen cosmonauts to microdose either LSD or a placebo over the course of several weeks and note the psychological effects. Volunteers were already microdosing LSD, so there was no true control. Each volunteer was given instructions on creating their own low-dose gel capsules, some containing LSD, others not. Then they mixed the capsules in envelopes so they didn't know if they were taking the real thing or not.</p><p>The trial design was ingenious: each capsule featured a QR code that was scanned after the addition of ingredients but before they were placed in the envelope so that researchers knew what they were ingesting.</p><p>The problem: volunteers sourced their own LSD. Lack of quality control could have had a profound effect on the results. </p><p>The results: LSD microdosers reported feeling more mindful, satisfied with life, and better overall; they also noticed a reduction in feelings of paranoia. </p><p>The catch: the control group felt the same thing, with no statistical difference between the groups. </p><p>Lead author Balázs Szigeti comments on the findings: "This suggests that the improvements may not be due to the pharmacological action of the drug but can instead be explained by the placebo effect." </p>
Credit: Alexander / Adobe Stock<p>Psychedelics are notoriously difficult to control for given the intensity of the experience. Yet there is precedent for the above findings. A <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00213-020-05464-5" target="_blank">2019 study</a> found that 61 percent of volunteers that took a placebo instead of psilocybin felt some psychedelic effects, with a few volunteers experiencing full-on trips.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Several stated that they saw the paintings on the walls 'move' or 'reshape' themselves, others felt 'heavy. . . as if gravity [had] a stronger hold', and one had a 'come down' before another 'wave' hit her."</p><p>The Imperial team believes the expectation of a trip might have been enough to produce similar results. Senior author David Erritzoe is excited for future studies on the topic, believing they tapped into a new wave of citizen science that could push forward our knowledge of psychedelic substances.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Accounting for the placebo effect is important when assessing trends such as the use of cannabidiol oils, fad diets or supplements where social pressure or users' expectations can lead to a strong placebo response. Self-blinding citizen science initiatives could be used as an inexpensive, initial screening tool before launching expensive clinical studies."</p><p>As investments into the psychedelics market explode, with one company <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-03-03/thiel-backed-magic-mushroom-firm-atai-hits-2-billion-valuation" target="_blank">reaching a $2 billion valuation</a>, a recurring irony appears in the long arc of psychedelics and research: the power of our minds might be enough to feel greater life satisfaction and a deeper sense of mindfulness. If that's possible with a placebo, we have to question why the rush to create more pharmacology is necessary. </p><p>This is, mind you, a separate conversation over the role of psychedelics and rituals for group bonding. The function of group cohesion around consciousness-altering substances will continue to play an important role in many communities. </p><p>Of course, we should continue to explore the efficacy of psychedelics on anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, PTSD, and addiction. <a href="https://bigthink.com/surprising-science/antidepressant-effects" target="_self">Pharmacological dependence</a> is a stain on the psychiatry industry. Whether or not psychedelics can be prescribed for daily use remains to be seen, but we know a moneyed interest is expecting a return on investment—the above company, ATAI Life Sciences, raised $157 million in its Series D round. </p><p>When it comes to wellbeing, some things money just can't buy. How we navigate the tricky terrain of mainstreaming psychedelics remains to be seen. </p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a> and <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Facebook</a>. His most recent book is</em> "<em><a href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08KRVMP2M?pf_rd_r=MDJW43337675SZ0X00FH&pf_rd_p=edaba0ee-c2fe-4124-9f5d-b31d6b1bfbee" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy</a>."</em></p>
What makes some people more likely to shiver than others?
Some people just aren't bothered by the cold, no matter how low the temperature dips. And the reason for this may be in a person's genes.