Some of those who believe they've been abducted by aliens also think they were left with a souvenir.
by Brian Dunning
May 17, 2016
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Today we're going to wake up after a really weird dream, a dream from a strange dark place, with odd faces peering down at us as we lie on the table. And when we awaken we'll find a sore spot on the back of our neck, perhaps, or our foot, or some other place. And what's this? There's a lump under the skin. And what's in that lump? It is one of the mainstays of the community of those who believe the Earth is routinely visited by aliens from another planet who abduct us and perform experiments before returning us to our bed. It is the alien implant.
Since the 1950s and 1960s, a few believers in alien abductions have reported that the aliens left something embedded in their bodies, or placed up their nose. In his 2001 book Real Life X-Files, Joe Nickell reports that the phenomenon did not become widely known until 1979 when author Raymond Fowler wrote about one of the early cases. The implant is often described as a micro mechanical device of some kind, usually transmitting a radio signal back to the aliens. Some of these people have had X-rays taken, objects have appeared on the X-rays, and a few doctors have removed the objects. The subject is a fascinating one, because if everything were to check out according to the tales, we'd have testable, physical evidence of an alien culture.
Regretfully, I have to start off this episode with a bit of an anticlimax. When I first began researching alien implants, it was with great anticipation. I was eager to see neat, finely crafted tiny objects, perhaps even micro-mechanisms or circuits. I was excited to see metallurgical proof of extraterrestrial origin. But sadly, the more I looked, the further my spirits dropped. What I'd hoped would be a fascinating episode with some (hopefully) unanswered questions turned into a dreary slog through abysmal evidence, spectacular claims backed up by no evidence, and sad, obvious misunderstanding of basic scientific knowledge.
To begin with, one of the first images you'll encounter on the web when looking into this is a picture of someone's hand, and in his palm are four little tubular shaped objects of different sizes. Do a reverse image search to track down the picture's origin, and you'll see the first few pages of results are all from UFO websites promoting alien implants. And what are these objects? They are RFID tags for pets, the type that vets implant under the skin. No mystery there at all. It is perfectly symptomatic of everything I found about the alleged alien implant phenomenon. The only evidence for them ranges from nonexistent to terrible.
Although he wasn't the first to talk about alien implants, the man whose name is most synonymous with them was Dr. Roger Leir, a podiatrist and foot surgeon. By the time he passed in 2014, he claimed to have removed 50 such devices from patients, a number which is gravely suspicious, as it seems to have doubled twice in the last few years of his life with almost no new photographs or case studies being presented. There's a 40-minute YouTube video of a 2012 presentation he gave at the International UFO Conference, showing what they describe as "startling new findings". Leir was "the man" in the field and this was one of his final presentations, so we can safely regard it as the best of the best evidence. Let's have a look at some of it.
One of the claims about alien implants which has existed since the phenomenon was first reported, and which Leir supports, is that they broadcast radio signals. Leir says they transmit on what he describes as a "deep space frequency", and he gives this as 14.749650 MHz. Let's look at that number.
In episode 342 on the Wow! signal, we went into great depth on a technical discussion of what radio frequencies make sense to use for interstellar communications. I won't repeat it all here, but suffice it to say that planetary atmospheres block most signals — at least, atmospheres like ours do, and presumably Leir's aliens would have designed devices specific for their intended planet. There are two windows in the radio spectrum through which our atmosphere is more or less transparent to electromagnetic radiation, without it being either absorbed or reflected. One is the visible spectrum, and the other is 1 to 10 GHz. Compare this to Leir's 14.7 MHz. It's completely outside the window. It's among the worst frequencies to choose if you want to contact "deep space". What is it actually used for? Leir's 14.7 MHz is in the middle of the band we call High Frequency radio, 3 to 30 MHz, and is used for two-way radio communication: aviation, emergency, shortwave, amateur, maritime, etc. Since these radio signals bathe us all day every day, it's unclear why Leir concluded that an alien implant must be their most likely cause.
There is another suspect which may be even more likely. The frequency 14.7456 MHz, which is so close to 14.749650 that the difference is hardly worth mentioning, is the frequency used by the chipsets of the common RS-232C serial interface. This is used by many computers and nearly every type of lab equipment. It was very likely also used by whatever device Dr. Leir used to look for frequencies in the room (which he does not specify). Why 14.7456? Because it divides evenly into that interface's maximum baud rate for data, 115,200.
And of course, all of this is to say nothing of the enormous power and antenna that would be needed to make an interstellar radio transmission.
The only implants Leir shows in photos look like tiny pebbles, somewhat bigger than grains of sand, and irregularly shaped. In his "startling new findings" talk, he shows the results of Raman spectroscopy analysis, revealing the molecular content of this particular implant. Leir doesn't say what his own read of this was, but since Raman spectroscopy is commonly used, reference charts are published that let you quickly match and identify what's shown on the graph. In this case, much of it showed human tissue, not surprising since it was removed from a human. It also showed exactly one other compound: silica glass. It's a tiny piece of broken glass. Not surprising when Leir tells what part of the person's body it was removed from: a toe. Soon we'll come back to the reason Leir didn't simply have a chemist tell him his sample was broken glass.
Leir reveals that another of his samples was mainly nickel-iron. Now, there are many types of nickel-iron alloys, some are meteoric, some are found naturally on Earth, and others are commercially produced for industrial use. Plenty of people with industrial jobs have nickel-iron splinters in their bodies. Leir says that based on the ratio of nickel to iron, his team concluded that this particular one was meteoric, and not of Earthly origin. The only problem with that is it's not how we determine whether nickel-iron is Earthly or not; the ratio found in a meteor might be anything. We determine that isotopically. It's complicated and beyond the scope of this episode, but I've included a link to a dissertation entitled Iron Isotope Cosmochemistry.
Almost all papers promoting alien implants include the claim that they incorporate biological tissue, as if they are tiny cybernetic devices. Leir gets more specific than most, stating his finding that they are encased in a capsule, often keratin or collagen. This should not surprise anyone in the medical field. It's called a foreign body granuloma, and it's how the human body encapsulates a foreign body to protect itself from it. Depending on what the foreign body consists of, this fibrous tissue forms around the object, as much as 2mm thick. Manufacturers of medical implants must account for this, and it's one reason they prefer titanium to stainless steel, as it elicits less of an encapsulation response.
Leir and others have noted that these implants have what they describe as "strong" magnetic fields, and which they've measured at 10 milligauss (mG). This is not at all a significant fluctuation. The Earth's magnetic field ranges from 250 to 650mG, so this variance of 10mG reported by Leir is only 2.5% of the normal variances around the Earth's surface. But is it even true? Nobody knows, since all we have on this is the verbal reports of Leir and a few others who claim to have detected this tiny variance. For a piece of debris that actually is nickel-iron, it's perfectly in line with what we'd expect.
There are certainly plenty of other claims about alien implants, but they're all supported only by anecdotal reports, with no evidence at all. These include reports of carbon nanotubes in the implants, stories of the implants moving by themselves or reassembling after removal, and claims that the implants resist all earthly tools at efforts to cut them open for inspection.
How is it possible that Dr. Leir, and the other alien implant promoters, could have gotten so much basic science so wrong? To understand, listen to Dr. Leir's own words from his appearance at the UFO conference, talking about a TV program he hoped to make to promote the idea of alien implants:
It was an excellent program, and we had it in our contract that there would be no debunkers, and no skeptics... This was going to be a series, and the series was to be called Alien Intent. They looked at the series and they came with a bunch of real weird stuff, and said they would only pick up the show if it had debunkers and skeptics in it, and we said no. (Applause) ...I'm trying to place myself in a category where if a program appears on TV, unless it's purely entertainment and they want me to entertain, the knowledge that you're getting will have no debunkers and no skeptics.
Leir was serious about excluding from his process any viewpoints whose primary goal was anything other than supporting his preferred conclusion. Good analysis demands a non-ideological perspective. Any unbiased electrical engineer could have told him why he picked up the radio frequency. Any unbiased astronomer or geologist could have told him why the nickel-iron was not extraterrestrial. Any unbiased chemist or geologist could have told him his sample was just a piece of broken glass. A glance at Wikipedia could have clued him in that 10mG is not a significant magnetic fluctuation. He should have known himself about the granuloma, but could not get past his own certitude that it was alien. He insisted that no skeptical perspective be allowed into the process — that no explanations other than "alien origin" should be considered. The inevitable result was that he was wrong.
The simple fact is that people trip, fall, step on things, or work industrial jobs or have hobbies that deliver splinters, and nearly all of us have debris embedded in our skin somewhere. I've had a piece of gravel in my elbow for 25 years from a rollerblading crash. It remains only for the alien implant believers to open their minds to the possibility that their preferred explanation is not necessarily the only possible one.
By Brian Dunning
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Cite this article:
Dunning, B. "Alien Implants." Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media,
17 May 2016. Web.
10 Dec 2016. <http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4519>
References & Further Reading
Bell, I., Clark, R., Gibbs, P. "Raman Spectroscopic Library." UCL Chemistry. University College London, 9 Aug. 2010. Web. 1 May. 2016. <http://www.chem.ucl.ac.uk/resources/raman/>
Blackmore, S. "Scientific Analysis of an "Alien Implant"." UFO Magazine. 1 Nov. 1997, Nov/Dec: 9-11.
Clancy, S. Abducted: How People Come to Believe They Were Kidnapped by Aliens. Boston: Harvard University Press, 2009.
Gotman, I. "Characteristics of Metals Used in Implants." Journal of Endourology. 30 Mar. 2009, Volume 11, Issue 6: 383-389.
Nickell, J. Real-Life X-Files: Investigating the Paranormal. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 2001. 204-210.
Wang, K. "Iron Isotope Cosmochemistry." All Theses and Dissertations. Washington University, 1 Jan. 2013. Web. 29 Apr. 2016. <http://openscholarship.wustl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2189&context=etd>
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