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The Independent Culture
Channel 4's Sci-Fi Weekend offered more fruitcakes than Fortnum and Mason's, a delicious parade of the wide-eyed and impressionable. First up was The Real X Files (C4, Sun), Jim Schnabel's fascinating account of America's psychic spying programme - a study in Cold War paranoia and slush-fund morality. The competition was fierce but my favourite character, by a nose, was General Albert N Stubblebine III, who became head of the army's Intelligence and Security Command in 1981. On the outside, General Stubblebine was as upright as a military band. On the inside, though, someone was stomping hard on the wah-wah pedal. He reminded me of General Jack D Ripper from Dr Strangelove, the one who's convinced that fluoridation is a commie plot. General Stubblebine took to holding spoon-bending sessions with fellow officers before his career finally span out of control.

From what you could see, "remote viewing" was simply music-hall mediumship run backwards. The viewer would free-associate ("Large, tall, South America, Chile, Peru") while the monitor, who knew the target in mind, unconsciously edged them closer with yes/no answers. Even Mel Riley, a true believer, conceded to Schnabel that "without feedback, your remote viewing turns to shit". But human credulity is a wonderful thing, with powers beyond our imagining. It can easily turn shit to gold. When the Inspector General's office started to look into remote-viewing, in the wake of the Irangate scandal, huge numbers of files were hastily shredded. Ed Dames, an ex- member of the team, passed on this information with knowing solemnity; concealment, in the world of the paranoid, is always taken as corroboration. But if the unit had proof that its experiments were working why would they have destroyed it? It seemed more likely that the paperwork showed they had been wasting their time, and thousands of dollars besides.

By then it had dawned on you that everybody involved must have been groggy from sucking on the government tit, as milk-dazed as a baby. Perhaps we could conduct a brief thought experiment here. You are the sort of person who believes in the paranormal (participants in these programmes were officers who claimed to have had psychic experiences or to have seen UFOs - an obvious recruitment policy, perhaps, but one that does rather exclude the element of control). Someone gives you large chunks of tax-payers' money to expand your hobby into a profession. Do you A: Turn round and say "It's a bust. The tests prove nothing", or B: "We're beginning to get some very intriguing results but we need more money to be sure". I don't think you need psychic powers to work out the probabilities.

The capacity of secrecy to generate bullshit was also demonstrated by Secret History's (C4, Mon) film about the Roswell incident, which included the much-hyped film of autopsies on alien beings. It's fairly clear that something happened in Roswell in 1947 but the combination of the date - when the Cold War was still hot to the touch - and the location - the home of America's only atomic bomb squadron - seem to offer a good few alternative explanations before you settle on alien tourists having a bad day. Occam's razor has it that you should not multiply entities, meaning that it's best to start with the simplest hypothesis and proceed from there. But UFO freaks like nothing better than to multiply entities, particularly those with six fingers and weird eyes.

Tim Shawcross's film offered plenty to douse the fires of speculation it had lit - including evidence that animal test flights were being conducted as early as 1947. But most convincing of all was the wet blanket of the autopsy footage, which seemed to me transparently fake, from the artful clumsiness of the camera movements to the carefully modelled corpse. They came from Planet Play-Doh.

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