Sunday, 23 May 2010

Ewe couldn't make it up!

The idea that aliens are mutilating farm animals and other creatures began in the USA during the 1960s. Opinion is divided between those who believe the wave of mysterious deaths of cattle that followed can be attributed to predators, nefarious military experiments, cult activity or- whisper it!- real aliens. But it was inevitable that “mutes”, like most other UFOlogical legends, would be exported from the USA to the rest of the world. The phenomenon in the UK is sporadic and has tended to preoccupy the energies of the type of UFO buff that Patrick Moore used to describe as ‘independent thinkers’. We didn’t have to wait long for The Sun to set this hare running and in April, under the frivolous headline “Baas Attacks” we were told that farmers near Shrewsbury in Shropshire had found bodies of sheep which had been “lasered” by mysterious orange lights in the sky, leaving the poor creatures without brains or eyes. Others have been found with neatly drilled holes via which brains and internal organs have been extracted, and so on.

The source for The Sun’s story was ‘UFOlogist’ Phil Hoyle who claims that such mutilations are regularly taking place in a 50-mile "corridor" between Shrewsbury and Powys in Wales. Hoyle’s grandly-named ‘Animal Pathology Field Unit’ was featured briefly on BBC3’s I believe in UFOs programme earlier this year, but his wild claims left even the clueless presenter Danny Dyer lost for words. One of the unit’s investigative activities was to organise a skywatch at one of the farms plagued by extraterrestrial mutilators. Afterwards Hoyle was quoted as saying: “The technology involved in these attacks is frightening. For a short while it looked more like a Star Wars battle. These lights and spheres are clearly not ours. They are built by technology and intelligence that's not from here.” The following day he quizzed farmers (none of whom were named or quoted) in the vicinity and found that "all but one had some type of unusual disappearance of animals or deaths with strange injuries".

Now I can understand why The Sun runs this type of 'flat earth' story but when it is picked up by the Press Association and repeated by the Daily Telegraph (5 April 2010) you begin to realize how far fact-checking has declined in British journalism.

For his 2008 book Flat Earth News Nick Davies commissioned Cardiff University to survey the contents of four ‘quality’ newspapers (Times, Guardian, Independent and Telegraph) during two random weeks to assess the source of their editorial content. He found that a massive 80% of the content was drawn from either agency and/or PR sources. That left just 12% of the content that appeared to be generated through the efforts of the paper’s own reporters. This is what Davies calls churnalism - but essentially it is lazy journalism and it is endemic in newsrooms everywhere. Stories like this one are copied without the most basic checks and endlessly recycled on the internet.

Perhaps I’m taking this too seriously – after all newspapers run daft stories every day, as their role is to entertain as well as to inform. But any journalist worthy of the name should have asked why farmers – not usually known for their lack of initiative when it comes to pursuing claims for loss of livestock - had not reported these mutilations to the police or the authorities, or made any claims for compensation. At an even more basic level, who are these farmers and why isn't a single source - apart from Hoyle - named in the story?

It took me less than half an hour to make some basic inquiries with the Animal Health team that is responsible for the Welsh Border region (part of the Department for the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs). This established the team had not received a single complaint from farms in this region or even any report of an unexplained animal mutilation during the past five years. But why let the facts get in the way of a good story?


  1. Dr. Clarke, why don't you contact the Animal Pathology Field Unit yourself and ask for the names of the farmers who have lost their livestock?

    Then again, that would be letting facts get in the way of a good debuking excercise...

  2. Dave:
    This whole story needs debunking because it is full of bunk.
    It is not up to me to go looking for farmers who have lost sheep to aliens.
    It's up to 'the Animal Pathology Field Unit' to publish their evidence.
    The facts are:
    a) no farmers have reported losses to the local police or Animal Health Team
    b) until a named farmer does so - or steps forward to substantiate these claims, on the record - there's nothing to investigate.

  3. Well, of course the story as reported in the Sun is full of bunk. We all know the Sun is full of shit. But the real story behind the story, if you will, may not be bunk.

    Why the reluctance to contact the APFU directly? You seem to go to great lengths to investigate most UFO related cases (which is commendable). A simple phone call or email to the APFU doesn't seem beyond the call of duty. Contacting the APFU directly would also give you the opportunity to ask why these farmers have not contacted the police or Animal Health Team rather than assuming that said farmers don't exist.

    These are the facts:

    The APFU website has published the names of several farmers who have lost animals in so-called mysterious circumstances. The location of the farms are also given.

    So it appears there is something for you to investigate after all.

    I'm not inclined to assume these animal deaths are 'unexplainable' but these cases do exist and farmers have been named by the APFU.

  4. Dave - everyone has limited resources and I have to prioritise what I can do.
    If I followed up every stupid story in The Sun to the extent that you suggest, I would have to give up paid employment.
    As you say, in the past I have put a lot of time and resources into investigations but now I have to prioritise.
    I now have an in-built bullshit detector that makes such a waste of resources unnecessary.
    The bottom line is:
    Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.
    It is not up to me to investigate every extraordinary claim - I've done the hard work to justify my scepticism.
    No, it is up to the people making the claims to provide the evidence.
    Once we have some evidence it might be worth investigation. At the moment there is none.

  5. I should add that I might take APRU claims a bit more seriously if:
    a) farmers had reported these animal losses to the police (no evidence)
    b) farmers had reported losses to the Animal Health teams (no reports received).
    I find it difficult to believe that any farmer in this country who lost valuable livestock in mysterious circumstances, would not report those losses officially and, instead, take their concerns to a UFO group.
    When these mysterious mutilations are subject to a police and/or DofE inquiry, then it would be worth a follow-up.
    Until that happens - it's not worth tuppence.

  6. No evidence of what? That these farmers exist? That would seem to be false since names and addresses have been published on the APFU website.

    "At an even more basic level, who are these farmers..."

    "It is not up to me to investigate every extraordinary claim..."

    This is bizarre. You were the one who asked who these farmers are, implying they don't exist. You spend half an hour checking with the Animal Health Team but you won't spend the 5 minutes it would take to check the APFU website. You are told that their names are a mouse click away yet you claim you are too busy to check the facts. Not too busy to check with secondary sources of course. This isn't scepticism David!

    If anyone reading is interested in the facts then simply google the APFU website.

  7. Dave,
    I'll try to make this simple:
    (1) Police and Animal Health inspectors are not "secondary sources".
    They are Primary Sources of reliable information.
    (2) If Farmers had lost livestock in the way APRU claims, those farmers would have reported these losses to (1) above.
    As there is no evidence they have done so, my view is there is no "mystery" to investigate.
    But that's just my opinion. If you wish to investigate further, why waste time posting messages on my blog - you could be in a car on your way to Shropshire by now.

  8. "They are Primary Sources of reliable information."

    That's not really what I meant. We want to know if these farmers really exist and have lost livestock in the manner in which the APFU claims (not in the manner in which the Sun claims). Asking the APFU for their names would be the best way to verify this and then follow up on that wouldn't you agree? Asking the Police or Animal Health Team would only verify the farmers existence if the farmers had reported the deaths to these authorities.

    Are you basing above point (2) on any facts about established or necessary procedures?

    "If you wish to investigate further, why waste time posting messages on my blog"

    I don't feel the need to investigate further, I have satisfied myself that these cases exist. I'm posting here mainly because I thought your opening post was quite harsh and not up to your usual standards if you don't mind me saying. I'm also interested in why you continue to refuse to check the facts given this was a case worthy of your interest in taking 30 mins to contact the Animal Health Team...

  9. So you don't feel the need to investigate further, because you have satisfied yourself that these cases exist - on the basis of reading the APRU website and without making any further inquiries of your own.

    And in the same post you criticise me for using "secondary sources".

    That sounds like the pot calling the kettle.

    At the risk of repeating myself - and this is my final word: I find it difficult to believe that any farmer in this country could lose valuable livestock in the circumstances alleged by the APRU and not report such losses (criminal offences) to either the police or local Animal Health Teams. They would need to do this in order to claim compensation for starters.

    No farmer would bypass that route and report their losses to a UFO group only.

    This is where my bullshit detector smells a very big rat.

  10. "I find it difficult to believe that any farmer in this country could lose valuable livestock in the circumstances alleged by the APRU and not report such losses (criminal offences) to either the police or local Animal Health Teams."

    The APFU website presents a case involving the Police in Devon:

    "On the 5th October 2009 Mike Freebury finally won a long and protracted battle with the Information Commissioner and the Devon and Cornwall Constabulary to obtain the release of photographs taken by Scene of Crimes Officer(SOCO) for the Devon and Cornwall police at Moortown, Dartmoor on 16th October 2005.

    The police images were taken as part of an investigation into two mutilation attacks that took place at Moortown, Dartmoor on Friday 14th October and Saturday 15th October 2005. There were four victims left in a locked field on Friday, 14th and two more victims were found on
    Saturday, 15th October at nearby Barn Hill."

    A full description of the case and photos of the 'mutilations' can be viewed at the APFU website.

    Also see these interviews with the APFU team members about alleged involvement of DEFRA in these cases and their investigations:!!

  11. Thanks for making my point for me Dave.

    The case you reported is from Devon and Cornwall, not from Shropshire - therefore irrelevant.

    You have now changed the goalposts to cover animal mutilations in other parts of the UK.

    I'm asking for evidence of police investigations of mutilations of sheep by laser beams directed by spaceships in Shropshire and the Welsh Borders.

    This is what APRU are claiming.

    If such incidents had occurred in Shropshire as APRU are alleging they would have been reported to and investigated by either:

    West Mercia Police


    Department of the Environment Animal Health

    When you can supply evidence that such investigations have taken place I might take this subject more seriously.

  12. "The case you reported is from Devon and Cornwall, not from Shropshire - therefore irrelevant."

    Irrelevant to what exactly? You said that you find it hard to believe that "any farmer in this country" would not report such incidents to the Police. Yet when I supply evidence to the contrary, you claim it's irrelvant! It's certainly relevant to establishing that 'mutilation' cases have been reported to the police, regardless of whether it took place in the Welsh Borders or not.

    "You have now changed the goalposts to cover animal mutilations in other parts of the UK."

    Oh right, silly me thought that documented 'mutilation' cases involving the Police in the UK counted as evidence against your claim that "any farmer in this country" would not report such incidents to the Police. I suggest it is you who is moving the goal posts.

    In any case, I shall contact the APFU directly and ask them whether farmers have reported these incidents to the Police and other authorities in the Welsh Borders area. I'll post my findings here.

    "I'm asking for evidence of police investigations of mutilations of sheep by laser beams directed by spaceships in Shropshire and the Welsh Borders.

    This is what APRU are claiming."

    Is it? I thought that was what the Sun was claiming what Phil Hoyle said, and we know how reliable the Sun is. Where do the APFU say that these 'mutilations' were carried out by laser beams from space ships? They certainly refer to farmers reporting spheres of light and have even posted a video of some spheres they shot themselves on a surveillance operation. The closest I have found to a statement on this by them is:

    "The APFU have believe that there is a link between the enigmatic spheres and animal mutilations."

  13. OK Dave I look forward to seeing the results of your investigations.

    If you turn up any real evidence that's worth taking further then I will be interested to see it.

    But I'd point out that animals die in odd circumstances all the time, but we don't need to resort to "spheres of light" or paranormal forces to explain them. Human criminals and animal predators should be considered far more likely.

    Of course farmers occasionally report such things to the police, as in the Devon case. I'd be daft to claim otherwise (and never have).

    But the Sun story - quoting APRU - alleges that mysterious forces are killing sheep in Shropshire, not in Devon. I repeat again if such incidents had really happened the police and animal health teams in that part of the world would be aware of it.

    As far as I can discover, they are not.

    PS can I suggest that if you wish to continue this correspondence that you email me directly rather than posting here - until you have something worth saying that isn't repetition.