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How to read "Area 51"

Interested in picking up Anne Jacobsen's "Area 51"? Before you do, let me offer some advice.

By Kevin Moran / August 26, 2011

Were it not for the UFO theories and factual errors, "Area 51" would actually make for a perfectly decent slice of Cold War history.

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It was the late Carl Sagan who popularized the oft-repeated maxim that, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” Unfortunately for readers, investigative journalist Annie Jacobsen’s new book Area 51 doesn’t just ignore Sagan’s advice; it attacks it with a chainsaw.

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First, let me bring you up to speed. You know the 1947 Roswell Incident? The one where an alien spacecraft supposedly crashed into the New Mexico desert only to be recovered and hidden by the US government? Well, Jacobsen’s book says that contrary to all the loony conspiracy theories about aliens from outer space, there is a perfectly logical, straight-forward answer to the mystery and here it is:

The Roswell UFO was a secret German flying saucer that had been captured by the Soviets after World War II and crewed by kidnapped Russian children surgically engineered by Nazi mad doctor Joseph Mengle to resemble aliens and created with the goal of sowing terror and confusion in the US populace in order to facilitate a full on Soviet attack.

See? Simple!

At least according to Jacobsen it is. In supporting the theory, she cites “Ockham’s razor,” the famous logic test that dictates that the simplest solution to a problem (or the one requiring the least additional information) is usually the correct one.

So, for those of you keeping score, Jacobsen is implying that German flying saucers controlled by Stalin and crewed by Nazi engineered mutant children is the simplest possible solution to the Roswell Incident. Much more straightforward than the convoluted story cooked up by the US government about how the incident resulted from a popped weather balloon.

All right, enough sarcasm.

What Jacobsen is really writing about is the story of Area 51 – the much mythologized although never officially acknowledged secret US military installation in the Nevada desert. Speculation about the site has abounded for decades now. Jacobsen – a contributing editor at the Los Angeles Times Magazine and an investigative reporter whose work has also appeared in The National Review and The Dallas Morning Newsclaims to be ready to tell you the truth (about the aliens and much else.)

But beware. She doesn't.

Although “Area 51” contains over 100 pages worth of end-notes and citations, all information, references and accounts relating to the UFO theory come from a single anonymous engineer, who allegedly worked for defense contractor EG&G on reverse-engineering the supposed flying saucer and its surgically altered crew. And that’s it. One. Single. Source.

Actually, that’s not entirely true. Upon reading “Area 51”’s end-notes, one finds that for many of Jacobsen’s claims, she rather fancifully cites “educated speculation” as a source.

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