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SKEPTIC DOUBTS SAUCERS FLY.

Byline: Mark Baker The Register-Guard

It would take us "Earth People" an incomprehensible amount of time, more lifetimes than have ever been lived, to travel to their world, a place known as Pleiades. But it only takes them seven minutes to get here.

Hard to believe? Not if you're Michael Horn and have spent 25 years investigating the outrageous claims of Billy Meier, a Swiss man who says he's had contact with beings from another planet.

"It will curl your hair when you get into it," says Horn, a Los Angeles fitness instructor and operator of the Web site, www.theyfly.com, who was reached by telephone. "I can't prove that UFOs are real, but I can prove (Meier's) contacts are real. I will take on any skeptic or any scientist, any time."

Maybe Horn should have a close encounter with Robert Sheaffer, the San Diego software developer and Skeptical Inquirer writer invited to Oregon this week by Oregonians for Rationality, a nonprofit organization formed about 10 years ago to combat the wild claims of UFO fanatics and all things paranormal.

Sheaffer, who has spent 25 years himself studying UFOs, as a skeptic, will give a free talk today at the Eugene Water & Electric Board.

"Some people would like to believe in something that's fun and exciting," Sheaffer says of UFO enthusiasts, "although it might not be true. But the more you look into (these claims) in a rigorous sense, the less scientifically believable they are."

And there's no better time to talk unidentified flying objects, with sightings recently reported in Mexico and a UFO festival being held in Oregon.

Earlier this week, Mexican Air Force pilots say they filmed 11 UFOs in the skies above their nation. "I couldn't say what it was ... but I think they're completely real," Lt. Mario Vasquez told CNN.

Sheaffer also spoke Thursday in McMinnville, near where the 5th Annual UFO Festival, the nation's second-largest annual gathering of UFO fans began Friday and continues today and Sunday.

And it is no coincidence that Sheaffer, 54 and the author of the 1998 book "UFO Sightings: The Evidence," was invited to speak in McMinnville and Eugene this weekend, says Jeanine DeNoma, an Oregon State University agricultural researcher and member of Oregonians for Rationality. Although he wanted to, Sheaffer says he was not invited to speak at the UFO Festival itself. UFO fanatics do not like skeptics knocking their claims and theories out of the sky, so to speak, he says.

Sheaffer's talk in Eugene will focus on the famous Trent case, one of the first widely publicized UFO sightings that happened in McMinnville in 1950. The photographs, taken with an old folding-box camera, show a flying saucer-like object spinning over Paul Trent's farm.

"I suspect that it was a practical joke that got out of hand," Sheaffer says. The photos ended up in McMinnville's weekly newspaper of the time, spread across the country, then the world, ending up in Life magazine.

About four years ago, a man named Joel Carpenter came up with a theory, which Sheaffer espouses, that Trent strung up the side mirror of an old pickup truck, which viewed sideways, looks just like the flying saucer in the famous photos. Reaction from UFO believers to Carpenter's theory was quite hostile, Sheaffer says.

"As for the sightings themselves, there really are unidentified flying objects," says Josh Reese, a former military fighter pilot and founding member of Oregonians for Rationality who lives in the Salem area. But there is some sort of rational explanation for most, Reese says, whether it's car headlights in the mountains or Jupiter floating in the distance. That's what Reese saw one time years ago while flying a fighter jet, although at first, he wasn't sure. The pulsating light appeared to move back and forth in the clouds. That spooked him, if only for a moment.

"And it was just a ... planet," he says.

Ted Clay, a statistician from Ashland and also a member of Oregonians for Rationality, will give a talk at the University of Oregon's Willamette Hall on Wednesday titled "Crop Circles: Man-made or What?" Are the unusual patterns, found mostly in the wheat fields of English farmers, made supernaturally? Made by aliens? Or made by people?

"I think they're made by people," Clay says. "But some people say they're made by a plasma vortex. Some people believe they're created by people's thoughts."

As for the case of Billy Meier, who claims he was first contacted by the Plejarans as a 5-year-old in 1942, Horn will go on believing.

"There's so much accurate information in this case," he says of the thousands of photographs Meier has of the Plejarans ships landing in Switzerland. "Either it's the biggest hoax or the most important story in human history."

Meier also claims the Plejarans can peer into the future, telling him, among other things, about the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks way back in 1987. Why didn't Meier warn the world? Would the world really have listened? Horn asks.

As for the future, Meier says the Plejarans have told him World War III will erupt between 2006 and 2012 unless America changes its foreign policies. Why don't the Plejarans just come to Earth and tell the American people themselves?

"You think our world would handle it if discs suddenly started coming down?" Horns says. `People would just go violent. They couldn't handle it. `Earth People' are too illogical.'

UFO SIGHTINGS: THE EVIDENCE

What: Lecture by UFO skeptic Robert Sheaffer

When: Today at 4:30 p.m.

Where: Training Room at EWEB, 500 E. Fourth Ave. in Eugene

CROP CIRCLES: MAN-MADE OR WHAT?

What: Lecture by Ashland's Ted Clay, statistician and member of Oregonians for Rationality

When: 7 p.m. Wednesday

Where: 100 Willamette Hall at University of Oregon

CAPTION(S):

Robert Sheaffer's talk in Eugene will focus on a 1950 McMinnville case, some of the first publicized UFO photos.
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Title Annotation:Science & Technology
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:May 15, 2004
Words:986
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