Science Behind the Fiction: Can we believe the Area 51 witness or was he a liar?

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Dec 12, 2018, 12:00 PM EST

Anyone familiar with the UFO community has probably heard the name Bob Lazar. He’s something of an infamous character among skeptics and UFO enthusiasts, alike. He’s largely responsible for bringing Area 51 to the attention of the public in 1989.

Lazar emerged, first shrouded in anonymity and a fake name, later in the light of day as himself. He claimed to have been hired as a physicist working at S-4, a site near the now famous Area 51, to reverse-engineer captured alien technology.

Interviews conducted at the time, with TV reporter George Knapp, detail Lazar’s alleged experiences at S-4 involving several disk-like craft, antigravity engines, and little gray aliens.

Soon after, however, Lazar mostly faded into obscurity, working at his own company, United Nuclear, selling scientific materials. Now he’s back as the star of a recent documentary about his life and experiences with extraterrestrial technology entitled Bob Lazar: Area 51 & Flying Saucers.

Directed by Jeremy Kenyon Lockyer Corbell, the documentary has been criticized for offering no new information on the decades-old story. Supporters of Lazar say that’s because there’s no new information to tell. Lazar has remained largely steadfast in his claims and willing to admit his ignorance when questioning strays into territory outside of his experience or expertise. These are qualities that lend credibility to believers. It is, after all, how a person would react were they telling the truth.

It’s also clear that Lazar has some level of scientific literacy, speaking in a way that sounds to many as though he knows what he’s talking about. It’s easy to see why his story captured the imaginations of so many. It’s a good story. But is it any more than that?

Whether or not Lazar believes his own story, whether it’s true to him, is something that will likely never be known. But we can scrutinize his individual claims and see if they stand up to examination, in this world or any other.

Education and Training

Prior to beginning work at the mysterious S-4 facility, Lazar claims to have earned degrees in physics from MIT and electronic technology from Caltech. A subsequent investigation revealed that neither institution has any record of him as a student, let alone a graduate.

This level of education would likely be required of anyone hired by the government for a secret project dissecting alien crafts for duplication. Yet, Lazar himself admits to not understanding why he was chosen, stating he was not the most qualified person. Lazar seems to be at least as bewildered by his own story as anyone listening to it.

The question of Lazar’s education threatens to erode the very foundation of his claims. Without these degrees, it’s hardly believable he’d attain such a position on a secret project of any kind.

But he passed Polygraph Tests…

Another piece evidence Lazar has in his favor is the couple of polygraph tests he’s taken and passed. Supporters are quick to point at this as iron-clad proof that Lazar is telling the truth, despite the common knowledge that polygraphs are inconsistent and unreliable.

Polygraphs, or lie-detectors as they are commonly known, rely on physiological responses to detect deception. The common polygraph measures subjects for changes in heart rate or blood pressure, respiration, and skin conductivity. It all seems very scientific. You know the difference between when you’re lying and telling the truth. Surely there is some measurable physiological difference taking place when a person lies.

But there’s no good evidence to suggest that current polygraphs, as they are designed and implemented, effectively measure deception. Moreover, there is no standardized method of questioning.

What these machines seem to really be measuring is fear or anxiety. And there are any number of reasons an innocent person might feel fear or anxiety and a guilty person might not.

In short, Lazar may very well be telling the truth to the best of his ability, but a polygraph doesn’t prove that one way or another. Even if we give him the benefit of the doubt, that only indicates that Lazar is not intentionally being deceitful. It wouldn’t be the first time an individual believed something patently untrue.

What’s more, there are even those within the UFO community itself who believe that Lazar is being truthful despite being wrong.

No conspiracy theory is complete without a second layer of additional conspiracy. Some believe that Lazar was, in fact, hired by the government and intentionally placed in situations that would foster a belief in extraterrestrials and their technology for the express purpose of exposing that narrative to the public. All of this was done, according to some, in order to cover up the real truth about aliens on Earth.

Mysterious Element 115

During the course of Lazar’s interviews he’s discussed the various alien crafts he witnessed while working at S-4, supposedly originating from Zeta Reticuli, some 39 light years away. According to Lazar, the crafts move by use of engines capable of manipulating gravity using an, at the time, unknown element.

Element 115 was used in reactors to create a field of gravity waves which allowed the crafts to counteract the Earth’s gravity or create an artificial downhill in any direction they chose.

It’s Lazar’s explanation for the seemingly erratic behavior of alien crafts. It’s a neat explanation which is, on its face, internally consistent.

Lazar also suggested that Element 115 could not be synthesized on Earth, as it is simply too heavy. Lazar claimed instead that the substance could only be made in very large stars. Though the powers that be at S-4 had pounds and pounds of the stuff.

Despite his claims, scientists in Russia did succeed in synthesizing a material which fits in the appropriate slot on the periodic table.

Moscovium, as element 115 was named after its confirmation, is incredibly radioactive, with a half-life of less than a second. To date, approximately 100 atoms of the stuff have been observed.

Lazar, however, was wrong in more ways than one. Moscovium can’t be manufactured in a star, no matter the size. Sun-like stars fuse hydrogen into helium and, depending on the size of the star, that process can continue up the periodic table to iron. That’s where fusion ends. Heavier elements can be made during supernova events but it’s unclear if that’s what Lazar meant. In any event, so far as we know, Moscovium only exists artificially in a laboratory setting.

Even if Moscovium does occur naturally, Zeta Reticuli, the binary star system from which Lazar’s aliens supposedly originate, is similar in character to our sun. There’s no good reason Moscovium should occur naturally there.

The Motion of Flying Saucers

At one point in Lazar’s interviews, he explains the cause for the erratic motion of flying saucers, saying it is a result of interference between Earth’s gravity and the gravity-engines of the crafts.

Lazar explains that gravity is variable near the surface of the Earth and implies that these variations in gravitational force makes flying near the surface unwieldy in a way that isn’t so when maneuvering through empty space.

It’s true that gravity is not wholly constant throughout the whole of the planet. Because of the world’s spheroid shape, the effects of gravity differ depending on latitude. There is also altitude to consider as well as the density of nearby material.

Moving from the equator to one of the poles will result in roughly half a percent of change in the impact of gravity on an individual or object. Local changes based on material density (the factor which would influence a flying craft) account for less than a tenth of a percent. It’s difficult to imagine beings capable of traversing interstellar distances and being tripped up by something so trivial. And not just once or twice but all the time. Erratic movements are a hallmark of UFO sightings.


We can’t prove a negative. Maybe Bob Lazar really did work at a secret government facility in Nevada, reverse engineering secret extraterrestrial technology.

Maybe the government has undertaken a vast conspiracy to discredit him by erasing his educational records. Maybe he is an unfortunate genius caught up in the greatest scandal in all of human history.

Maybe the government has messed with his mind, accounting for his inability to remember clearly when he started working at S-4 or when he first encountered a craft from another world, things the average person would likely never forget.

Maybe there’s a good explanation for why beings from another star system should look so similar to human beings in body structure.

These are questions that will likely be the focus of controversy for a long while yet. There are far more down-to-Earth explanations for UFO sightings and tales of alien visitation.

What we can say for certain is the available evidence doesn’t support Lazar’s claim. Whether that means he’s lying, confused, or the victim of an elaborate interplanetary conspiracy -- we’ll leave that up to you.

Bob Lazar: Area 51 & Flying Saucers is available on demand now.