Episode 133 - Element 115 and the Credibility of Bob Lazar's Claims
Recap: Bob Lazar is often credited - at least in part - with re-energizing the UFO field in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Unfortunately for the field, most who have looked into his claims have found them lacking in veracity. In this episode, I look specifically into his claims about ununpentium, also known as Element 115, which is supposed to be the source of propulsion for UFOs and work in their energy production.
- Logical Fallacies / Critical Thinking Terms addressed in this episode: Argument from Authority, "Retroactive Credibility"
- Relevant Posts on my "Exposing PseudoAstronomy" Blog
Claim: I’m going to return to my roots somewhat with this episode and try to focus on a very specific claim made by a single individual, but then how that single claim is used by many other people to state that the entire body of claims made by that individual are all correct. I speak in this case of alleged whistleblower Bob Lazar, who came upon the UFO scene in 1989. He made a lot of claims about UFOs and advanced technology, but the one in particular for this episode is about an element that had not yet been discovered, Element 115, ununpentium. This was the element that made UFOs work.
Many in the UFO community doubted and doubt Bob Lazar’s testimony, but when Ununpentium was first synthesized in the open literature in 2003, his credibility took a sudden rise: His advocates said that the fact element 115 exists when Bob said it did before it had been openly synthesized means that the rest of his story is true.
As a gratuitous side note, regular listeners to the podcast and readers of my blog, especially from about 2009 and 2010, may recognize this kind of retrodictive credibility claim. But, that’s what I’m going to talk about in this episode: Does the existence of element 115 mean that Bob Lazar’s testimony - in any part - should be considered more trustworthy, and did his testimony accurately state the properties of this element?
Bob Lazar: The Briefest of Backgrounds
As this episode is intended to be a short discussion of chemistry and nuclear physics … and believability … I don’t want to spend too much time on background, but in this case Bob Lazar’s background is almost central to the story. To tell this background, I went to a page linked in the shownotes called “The Lazar Synopsis,” written by Gene Huff, and sent in by listener Graham. Unfortunately, the “synopsis” is 13 printed pages … so much for brief.
The story as told in this synopsis is that Bob Lazar was a photographer in the Las Vegas area in the 1980s, but he had had some sort of background in physics or engineering or something related, and he had previously worked at Los Alamos National Labs in New Mexico. He wanted to get back into science, sent around resumes, and was apparently hired at an Area 51 auxiliary site known as S4. And to interject my own commentary, I could believe this story up to this point if I really had to.
The story then goes that Bob Lazar “was placed in a briefing room by himself to read some briefings as part of his indoctrination. As Mariani closed the door to leave Bob alone, Bob saw a poster on the back of the door. It was a “flying saucer” hovering over a dry lake bed and it was captioned, “They’re Here”. Bob opened the top folder on the desk and it contained 8 x 10 glossy photos of 9 different flying saucers, including the one on the poster.”
Bob’s alleged job was to back-engineer alien craft and see if they could be reproduced with terrestrial materials. He was forced to sign away his Constitutional rights which was apparently allowed by an executive order from President Reagan, he agreed to have his phones tapped, they tried to give him a handgun but would charge him $500 if he lost it but he refused because he knew it wasn’t worth that much, and he was subjected to medical tests but they wouldn’t tell him what they were. Here at S4, he also saw a small grey alien, had above top secret clearance, was subjected to various forms of memory manipulation, and other things that you might expect to see in Doctor Who’s Black Archive or at Stargate Command.
Unable to keep his mouth shut, he told his friends and brought them to an area, told them to look up, and there were UFOs doing impossible maneuvers over their heads.
It was at this time that a local newscaster, George Knapp, was featuring UFOlogists on his news program. Bob claimed he was fired after being shown a transcript of a phone conversation that was evidence his wife was having an affair, so they considered Bob an emotionally insecure risk, so they revoked his clearance. To retaliate, he cooperated with Knapp, who produced a special called “UFOs, The Best Evidence,” which included material by Bob Lazar, and it aired in November 1989. George tried to verify Bob’s credentials - which obviously would be a good thing to do so you know you’re not talking with a crazy person who just made all this [beep] up - but he was unable to verify ANYTHING other than a record that Bob went to Pierce Junior College in California.
Lazar had claimed to work at Los Alamos, gone to MIT, and various other things. For the record, Stanton Friedman, often seen as the father of modern UFOlogy, also tried to verify Lazar’s background. I quote:
“[Bob] could not have gotten a Compartmentalized Security clearance having operated a brothel. His W-2 form from the Department of Naval Intelligence totals under $1000.00, at most a week’s pay for a scientist. You can’t get a security clearance in a week. […]
“Not one shred of evidence has been put forth to support this story: No diplomas, no résumés, no transcripts, no memberships in professional organizations, no papers, no pages from MIT or Caltech yearbooks. He also mentioned, in a phone conversation with me, California State University at Northridge and Pierce Junior College — also in the San Fernando Valley, California. I checked all four schools. Pierce said he had taken electronics courses in the late 1970s. The other three schools never heard of him.
“The page from the Los Alamos National Lab phone book with Lazar’s name on it clearly states that it includes employees of the DOE and outside contractor, Kirk Meyer. “K/M” follows Lazar’s name. This proves he worked for K/M, not LANL.
“I checked with LANL’s personnel department for Lazar’s name and that of an old colleague. They found my guy, but not Lazar.
“He was publicly asked when he got his MS from MIT. He said “Let me see now, I think it was probably 1982.” Nobody getting an MS from MIT would not know the year immediately. He was asked to name some of his profs, He said: “Let’s see now, Bill Duxler will remember me from the physics department at Caltech.” I located Dr. Duxler. He’s a Pierce Junior College physics prof, and never taught at Caltech. Lazar was registered in one of his courses at the same time Lazar was supposedly at MIT! Nobody who can go to MIT goes to Pierce JC, not to mention the rather long commute between LA and Cambridge, Mass.
“I checked his High School in New York State. He graduated in August, not with his class. The only science course he took was chemistry. He ranked 261 out of 369, which is in the bottom third. There is no way he would have been admitted by MIT or Caltech. An MS in Physics from MIT requires a thesis. No such thesis exists at MIT, and he is not on a commencement list. The notion that the government wiped his CIVILIAN records clean is absurd. I checked with the Legal Counsel at MIT — no way to wipe all his records clean. The Physics department never heard of him and he is not a member of the American Physical Society.”
I’ll link to Friedman’s efforts in the shownotes. So, there you go. More on that in a bit.
What’s important to point out is that somehow, in spite of this, George Knapp continued to promote Bob Lazar. When sweeps rolled around, Knapp had him on as an update and his television station, KLAS, set a ratings record. Many in the UFO community credit Knapp and Lazar for relaunching the field. After he met John Lear in 1988, they became friends and much of John Lear’s information - that I’ve talked about in various episodes, including #19 - came from Bob Lazar.
Probably because of this background, that he probably played such a critical role in re-energizing the UFO community over 25 years ago, people are willing to overlook the fact that no one can corroborate his claimed background with any written documentation, other than a junior college. I’ve heard all sorts of explanations, mostly centering around the Men in Black destroying all his records so that his background couldn’t be corroborated.
It’s also probably because of this that people look to his claims to corroborate his story, and despite every single one of his science claims seeming to be baloney, there’s one that people latch onto because now it is real science: Element 115, or ununpentium.
Claims About Element 115
Bob Lazar claimed that Element 115, ununpentium, was the element that was key to the fuel system of the alien spacecraft. Ununpentium allowed the craft to warp space and create its own gravitational field to pull the craft through space. John Lear reiterates this with so-called “Gravity A and B” waves which sound fascinating but don’t actually mean anything.
Bob said that the way it worked was that it generates a minuscule gravity field which can be tapped into and amplified because that gravity field extends just beyond the atom’s outermost electron shell. Lazar never said how that’s done. But the end result is a highly directional gravity distortion field and when you bombard it with protons, ununpentium produces antimatter which then generates all the power systems on the craft, so you only need about 2 kilos, or 4.5 lbs of the stuff to last for several years of power and propulsion.
Of ununpentium’s manufacture, Bob Lazar stated it is “impossible to synthesize an element that heavy here on Earth. … The substance has to come from a place where super-heavy elements could have been produced naturally.” But he also said that the US government had collected about 500 lbs of the material, which I guess would be enough to power 100 crafts for several years.
In addition to that, Mr. Lazar claimed that ununpentium melts at a temperature of 1740 °C, which is about 3160 °F, or 2000 K.
The Science About Element 115
These aren’t a lot of claims to go on, but we can look into them in a methodical way to see if anything checks out.
First, when Bob Lazar was making his claims, the periodic table of elements went up to element 109, Meitnerium, though it was discovered 2 years before element 108, Hassium, because it is generally easier to synthesize odd-numbered elements than even-numbered elements.
But with that in mind, it absolutely must be stated that chemists, physicists, and other scientists did not think the periodic table stopped with 109. In fact, in the 1960s, Glenn Seaborg proposed the possibility that there would be an “island of stability” of super-heavy elements with a proton number around 120-126 that would be stable for long periods of time, like seconds to days. What you have to realize is that the reason the periodic table didn’t go up to elements with a proton number of 100 until we had nuclear bombs and later particle accelerators, is that it takes a tremendous amount of energy to create them, and they last for hours. Elements with proton numbers above 110 tend to last for seconds, and those like 115 last for 10s to 100s of milliseconds.
They are incredibly unstable, like if you were to try to cram a stack of magnets, alternately facing different directions so that the same poles are facing each other, into a tighter and tighter clump. There comes a point where it is just going to fly apart. You can try to moderate that by sticking buffers in, or in atomic physics, that would be neutrons. But it only reaches some level of quasi-stability before it flies apart again.
For example, ununpentium-290, which has 175 neutrons to 115 protons, has a half-life of only 16 milliseconds. But if you change the neutron configuration slightly by taking one out, so you have ununpentium-289, the half-life goes up by a factor of more than 10, to 220 milliseconds.
But back to my point: Scientists were openly predicting that these elements existed at least in the 1960s, over two decades before Bob Lazar made his claims about element 115. So the very fact that he incorporated ununpentium into his story, and then ununpentium was synthesized, does NOT mean that his story is automatically true.
That may seem like an obvious statement to many of you, but you’re an elite audience; many people miss or choose not to understand this, evidenced by the fact that when ununpentium was first possibly observed in a particle accelerator, various chatrooms and forums on the internet lit up with statements that Bob Lazar was vindicated.
Unfortunately, the very method of his apparent vindication - that element 115 had finally been created - directly contradicts a key claim that Bob Lazar made: Ununpentium cannot be synthesized in a lab. That it must be found in naturally occurring deposits that can only be made in high-mass star systems.
This itself makes no sense. Stars during their normal life produce nothing heavier than iron because everything heavier than iron takes more energy than it gives up in the fusion process. It’s only in supernova explosions that you get heavier elements, including the ones with very short half-lives like probably ununpentium, which means that if there’s a stable isotope, it should be everywhere because the entirety of our galaxy has been seeded by supernova explosions by this point in time. Which as a side-note is an issue I had with the Stargate franchise, because naquadah is supposed to be naturally occurring, super-dense, and happens to occur in most places in the galaxies other than Earth. It’s a McGuffin, but it’s one that doesn’t make sense given how basic astronomy works. Come to think of it, naquadah in Stargate fulfills much of what Element 115 does for Bob Lazar …
That musing aside, another point that Bob Lazar made about ununpentium is that its melting point is about 2000 K. It’s not, it’s about 670 K.
But beyond that, with so far every point I’ve addressed contradicting his story other than the element’s mere existence, we have the stability problem. Ununpentium is near one predicted island of stability, between copernicium and flerovium, elements 112 and 114. But the known isotopes are not stable. And the predicted maximum stability of the most stable version, ununpentium-291, is only seconds. To be able to store ununpentium-291 for years on a spacecraft would not be possible, for it would still - in a conventional sense - be highly radioactive and quickly decay into copernicium-291, which itself would be stable for around 1200 years.
From that discussion about stability, I think the take-home message is that at the most generous, we can say that we have not yet discovered all isotopes of element 115, but that the predicted absolutely most stable would be impossible to use as Lazar wants to use it.
Beyond that, the only other parts of this to mention are everything he claims about using it for propulsion. Like, if you bombard it with protons it makes antimatter. Which makes no sense because he claimed that you had to input material, to get antimatter, which produces energy when it reacts with matter. Simple conservation of mass and energy means you get absolutely NOTHING out of this. You spend a proton, you get an anti-proton, you react with a proton, you get energy exactly equal to the mass-energy of the particles that went into it. Everything is conserved. You get nothing out of it.
Or there’s the part that Element 115 has a gravitational field that extends beyond its electron shell that can be harnessed (keep in mind that everything has a gravitational pull on everything else, so this claim itself is kinda obvious yet silly at the same time).
But, that’s one interpretation of this claim. According to other statements that Bob Lazar has made, the “Gravity A Wave” which is what is supposed to extend beyond the outer electron shell of the atom is the strong nuclear force. This is one of the four fundamental forces in nature, but the last 60 years of physics have taught us that the strong nuclear force is incredibly strong only within the atom. Its strength drops off incredibly quickly, and it does not extend outside the atomic nucleus, much less to the electron shell and beyond it.
For Bob Lazar to be right, pretty much all of modern atomic physics - including some basic observational things - would need to be wrong.
Looking over this episode after I wrote it, and after recording to this point, it admittedly seems almost silly that I’d be covering it. Why-ever should I devote an entire episode to the claims made by one person who seems to have no credibility whatsoever, not only in his background but also in the claims themselves?
The answer is precisely because of this absolute lack of any credibility and the outright refutation of his claims, and yet the position that he holds in UFOlogy and the absolute fervor with which his followers will cling to any shred of possible corroboration of his story. Including George Knapp to a certain extent. Mr. Knapp has continued to support Bob Lazar in at least some of his story, and it’s because of Knapp that other people believe Bob. I have literally had people tell me that they didn’t put any credibility into the story until they saw George Knapp support it, and because they trust Knapp, they believe Bob.
And so, with all of this investment that people have in the story, it’s perhaps not surprising that they will cling to any shred of evidence, however feeble, still gives them hope. Such as the discovery of ununpentium.
The fact that ununpentium exists and is a “For Realz” element - even if it wasn’t first synthesized until 14 years after Bob Lazar’s story - does not mean that his story is true. And yet, when it was announced in 2003, you can find online forums where people pointed to it as “vindication” of Bob Lazar’s story. I think a Reddit user put it very well:
“I hate to say it, but someone with a rudimentary undersanding of physics could predict the existence of element 115. However, as others have pointed out, Lazar claimed that 115 would be the threshold of atomic stability and could be used for practical applications (such as the manufacture of spacecraft). Not the case with the real element 115. Look, I'd love to believe Lazar but he's been thoroughly debunked at this point.”
And that’s the way things are. Nothing about his story checks out. Nothing he said about ununpentium checks out, other than it exists, but even embedded within the validation of ununpentium’s existence is a refutation of Bob Lazar’s story: He said it couldn’t be manufactured.
And so, we’re left with a fun story and nothing else but some lessons we can carry over to other fields. I don’t have to tell you that because Spiderman takes place in New York City, and New York City is real, that does not mean Spiderman is real. I don’t have to tell you that because scientists are working on ways to make things invisible, that means Harry Potter is real.
But, I have to tell some people that because Zecharia Sitchin used some Sumerian names, that does not mean anything Sitchin claimed is real. And as with this episode, I have remind some people that all because someone makes a prediction, and some tiny sliver of that prediction later is validated, that does not mean that everything they claimed is true.
Provide Your Comments:
Comments to date: 7. Page 1 of 1. Average Rating:
Jay S Jessup, Md
12:40pm on Monday, March 13th, 2017
Bob Lazar's telephone extension was found in a smuggled 'Area 51 ' employee phone directory.
Teriyakisauce Planet Earth
5:30am on Friday, March 10th, 2017
Polygraph machines can be defeated. All you need to do is condition yourself to not be in stress when you tell the lie. Certain military personnel are trained to do this. Pathological liars don't even need training, they lie without stress naturally.
4:53pm on Tuesday, October 18th, 2016
I believe Bob Lazar. He passed a polygraph and the way he talks and remembers certain details is very telling. He closes his eyes and describes what he remembers 'seeing' as it happened. You can be a skeptic, that's your right, but leave those of us who DO alone. Go pick on someone else besides Bob... It's getting old man.
Stuart Lyons, CO, USA
6:50pm on Sunday, February 7th, 2016
I think it's irrelevant to the element 115 and other claims. The information about his back-story is "just extra" so far as I'm concerned about the science.
Gene C. U.S.
6:49pm on Sunday, February 7th, 2016
What's your opinion on Dr. Robert Krangle's confirmation of Bob Lazar being a fellow physicist at Los Alamos? Krangle has some highly noted accomplishments and I believe a verified MIT grad, lol.
Daniel Gotro ontario
9:21pm on Thursday, June 11th, 2015
Bob Lazar must be who I saw on TV many years ago, saying that he was once hired to reverse-engineer an alien anti-gravity drive. He said the aliens couldn't control it when flying horizontally, and crashed. I guess they bought a lemon from a Ferengi
12:55pm on Wednesday, June 3rd, 2015
A really nice episode! Especially since it's not: