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UFO Phenomenon

Decoding UFO / Alien Phenomena

UFO PhenomenaAustralian researcher John Lister looks at the politics and possible motivations of the 'leading lights' in today's burgeoning UFO movement.

In these times of globe-trotting UFO gurus, whose message may be far from spiritual, and manipulative mass entertainments which distort the original source material, it is becoming an increasing challenge to maintain an ‘open mind’ when pressured to accept the belief system of a particular faction which is promoted to the exclusion of others.

In this article we’ll look at some of ufology’s leading lights and their internecine warfare, using pertinent quotations which reveal their mindsets. The subject covers the contradictions, permutations and limits of belief, as opposed to open findings, and this will partly be a cautionary exercise.

Pyrrho’s successors

At one extreme of the ufology spectrum are the skeptics — people who express disbelief in all things unscientific. To the casual observer, their obsession with debunking UFOs, paranormal phenomena and fringe science must make them seem as fanatical as any UFO enthusiast. Dr. Stanton T. Friedman said that arch-skeptic Philip Klass followed the cardinal rule of all skeptics: "Make proclamations; don’t do any research."1

To be fair to the movement in general, this really can’t be said to be the norm. An examination of the Australian journal, The Skeptic, will reveal articles with arguments supported by numerous orthodox reference sources. It’s well done — even if you fail to be convinced, for instance, that monosodium glutamate is a harmless food additive. With the amount of consensus information in existence, there should be no difficulty in finding sources nor excuse for unsupported material.Skeptics equate objectivity with their own belief system — scientific materialism — and pretend that this is an apolitical stance. A courageous and truly sceptical individual would be equally suspicious of every pronouncement made by establishment scientists and politicians. Robert Anton Wilson commented on a renegade from CSICOP (the Committee for Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal):

Professor Marcello Truzzi, sociologist from Eastern Michigan University, was editor of the CSICOP journal when it was called The Zetetic. He had a difference of opinion with the Executive Council about whether dissenting views should be published. He says CSICOP isn’t sceptical at all in the true meaning of the word but is "an advocacy group upholding orthodox establishment views". Their alleged scepticism has become just another dogmatic blind faith.2

Veteran ufologist John A. Keel also cast a critical eye on CSICOP in his recent book Disneyland of the Gods:

Corliss is an elderly New Yorker who is rather proud of his title, "the millionaire communist". One of his pet enterprises is the American Humanist Association (AHA) which he rules with benign despotism. For years the AHA was reportedly on the FBI’s notorious list of "communist fronts". The organisation has about 2000 members. One of its spin-off groups was CSICOP. They declared themselves to be sceptics of almost everything and they staged frequent press conferences designed to get their names into the newspapers by denouncing social evils like dice-throwing, sea serpents and (gasp) UFOs.

...As you might surmise, outstanding members of the sceptics’ sewing circle include Mr. (Philip) Klass and Mr. (James) Randi. At their 1987 convention, Dr. Carl Sagan and Dr. Isaac Asimov were among the featured speakers.3

In UFOs: Operation Trojan Horse (1970) Keel expressed his belief that the UFO phenomenon was being manipulated for some subversive purpose, though by whom and for what end he wasn’t prepared to speculate. 25 years later, he had embraced Forteana and arrived at the conclusion that, because of such illogical phenomena, we inhabit a parallel reality distinct from the hypothetically rational original. This makes our Earth something of an intergalactic tourist attraction (the Disneyland of the Gods of the book’s title) where no rules apply — a thesis that is fanciful if not exactly helpful. Abandoning the conservative style of his earlier work, Keel wrote a cranky appraisal of Dr. J. Allen Hynek, a sceptic whom he was appalled to see elevated to the title of ‘Father of Ufology’:

The most hated man in the history of ufology was Mr. J. Allen Hynek, minion of the Air Force... He was teaching at a small college near the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, home of Project Blue Book; what’s more, he could be had for a small amount of money. The Air Force needed all the help it could get to keep an irate UFO-watching public off its back. They were looking for someone with academic credentials who would lend authority to their wild anti-UFO statements — somebody who would just take the money and run.For eighteen years, the US Air Force paid Dr. Hynek an average of $5000 per year as a "consultant" but, by his own admission, he was never consulted about anything. When official committees were formed to review the UFO "problem", the Air Force called in Dr. (Donald) Menzel (ufology’s earliest critic and proponent of air inversions of refracted light) and a young upstart named Carl Sagan. Hynek’s role... was simple. Twice a year Project Blue Book sent him a manila envelope filled with sighting reports. His job was to check through the star charts and astronomical catalogs and come up with celestial explanations.

...Dr. Hynek did have an unfortunate habit of making undocumented claims or getting all his facts scrambled. He seemed to be ignorant of a wide range of subjects, particularly astronomy (!) and psychic phenomena.

After Hynek’s cautious conversion to the ‘cause’ in the early ‘70s, he was opposed by Philip Klaass "the leather-lunged heckler of an aerospace journal (Aviation Week and Space Technology) who first surfaced in March. 1966, to heckle Donald Keyhoe at a UFO press conference. His favourite explanation is the ‘corona effect’, a rare phenomenon that occurs around power lines." 4

In 1968 Dr. Hynek testified before Congress that the legitimate study of UFOs is a scientific taboo. In his estimation there had never been a fair and objective study of the phenomenon, at least none that had been released to the public. When Project Blue Book folded the following year, he stated, "None of the evidence that I have examined would indicate any proof at all that we are being visited by extraterrestrials." By 1973 he was saying that Blue Book "had a job to do, whether rightfully or wrongfully, to keep the public from getting excited." 5

In the mid-’80s, Philip Klass was describing the object that crashed near Roswell in 1947 as a "radar corner reflector" suspended from a weather balloon, and he probably feels vindicated by the Air Force’s recent revelations about Project Mogul. Not so easily dismissed are fatuous remarks like, "Today, 99% of all UFO government documents are available in the national archive."

The famous Cash-Landrum case of 1980 is one of the most meticulously investigated in UFO history. Two women and a young boy suffered radiation burns after being exposed to a diamond-shaped UFO near Houston, Texas. The UFO was escorted towards a nearby Army base by 23 twin-bladed helicopters after leaving scorch marks on the highway and nearby trees. Betty Cash was repeatedly hospitalised in the years that followed and developed cancer. The women mounted an unsuccessful lawsuit against the federal government, alleging that a military test vehicle had caused their injuries. Considering the medical evidence alone, Philip Klass’s summation of the case was both misrepresentative and offensive: "I believe the story is a hoax. There is absolutely no evidence. The women’s story is supported only by the claim of Betty Cash that she had serious health problems after the alleged incident." 6

James Oberg is a NASA engineer on the space shuttle program, an associate editor of Space World magazine and the author of several books on the Russian space program, on which he is considered an expert. In the late ’70s and early ’80s he wrote a column for OMNI magazine, ‘UFO Update’, in which he regularly debunked all sighting reports. He invited readers to send in their own reports, which he promised to pass on to his associate Philip Klass for ‘expert’ analysis. After CIA documents surfaced in 1978 regarding a confrontation between two F-4 Phantom fighter jets and a UFO over southern Iran on September 19th, 1976, Oberg slovenly reported Klass’s opinion as the last word on the subject. This was to the effect that there was no reliable information about the incident because it had occurred in a foreign country which, by 1979, had become a new enemy, thus preventing American researchers’ access to the original witnesses.

In 1994 the NBC television program Sightings managed to trace the original witnesses, high-ranking officers in what had been Iran’s Imperial Air Force, who provided detailed testimony. This appeared in published form in the Sightings book (1996) by Susan Michaels.Oberg was first invited to speak on the Sightings program about the controversial footage of anomalous objects from Discovery mission STS-48 in 1991, which he maintained were ice crystals from a water dump. It was pointed out that some ufologists see Oberg as a paid government UFO debunker and not the "independent analyst" that he claims to be, yet Oberg was subsequently invited back to the program to prognosticate on the UFO crash at Kecksburg, Pennsylvania, in 1965 (which he believed was a failed Russian probe to Venus) and the abduction of Betty and Barney Hill in 1961, whose later memories of the incident, obtained under hypnotic regression, Oberg traced to the film Invaders from Mars (1953) and an episode of The Outer Limits (1964). "Can’t prove it but the sequence is highly suggestive," he asserted in 1994.

The late Dr. Carl Sagan based his scepticism on the shaky certainty that faster-than-light travel is impossible, so there would be a passage of five millennia between any two visits from the same extraterrestrial civilisation. He identified five stars which may possibly support solar systems in which ET civilisations have developed, including Alpha Centauri (4 1/2 light years away) and Tau Ceti (15 light years away). Sagan evidently believed that anything approaching travel at the speed of light was also an impossibility. While prepared to concede the possibility of a singular alien visit which kick-started the Sumerian civilisation, he dismissed the astronomical knowledge of the Dogon tribe of Mali, west Africa, with the supposition that they had obtained it from "an explorer, an adventurer or an early anthropologist" of the 19th century, who happened to be well-versed in then-current astronomical debate about Sirius A and the existence of its white dwarf companion.

In the long litany of ‘ancient astronaut’ pop archaeology, the cases of apparent interest have perfectly reasonable alternative explanations, or have been misreported, or are simple prevarications, hoaxes or distortions. This description applies to arguments about the Piris Reis map, the Easter Island monoliths, the heroic drawings on the plains of Nazca, and various artefacts from Mexico, Uzbekistan and China.

...There are too many loopholes, too many alternative explanations, for such a myth (as the Dogon’s) to provide reliable evidence of past extraterrestrial contact. If there are extraterrestrials, I think it much more likely that unmanned planetary spacecraft and large radiotelescopes will prove to be the means of their detection.7

After studying only a handful of cases, Sagan wrote an article for Parade magazine in 1993 in which he flatly refuted all abduction reports as the result of hallucinations or other mental disturbances. Abduction researcher Dr. David Jacobs, author of Secret Life, was not impressed. "Carl Sagan has what I call the arrogance of ignorance. He is a person who has enough arrogance to believe that he can answer the UFO and abduction mystery through lack of knowledge."8

Holding the fort

Self-described Forteans occupy a nebulous zone of disunity between skeptics and believers, although their intellectual sympathies clearly reside with the former. Bob Rickard, co-editor of the Fortean Times (UK), described the Fortean outlook in these words:

I like to think we are true sceptics in the Greek sense, not in the modern American sense. If you mention the word sceptic in America — with a ‘k’ that is — it automatically means an attitude that you are dismissing anything non-scientific. The original sceptics questioned things in order to discover things about them, which is similar to the attitude that Buddha asked his disciples to follow. He said if you want to know, you must question your teachers, your parents, your rulers and everybody — otherwise you won’t know. Sure it’s uncomfortable, but as (Charles) Fort said, "I don’t know how to find out anything new without upsetting people". ...We tell our readers: don’t believe it, even if you read it in the Fortean Times. But you have to trust people sometimes. ...There’s a quote I like: "For every expert there is an equal and opposite expert".9

The suspension of belief tends to reduce the magazine to the level of entertainment for skeptics, a modern-day freak show of weird stories whose very absurdity mitigates the need for deeper thought. Feature-length articles on particular subjects often reveal the magazine’s bias towards the psychological reductionism of Carl Gustav Jung, who believed that UFOs are mandalas — archetypal images of our deep selves which invite external projections. He warned us to separate what we think we see from what we actually see.

Fortean Times writers have extended the projection theory to all manner of phenomena, including, of all things, cattle mutilations (or ‘mootilations’, as the pun-happy publication refers to them). Peter Brookesmith is a regular contributor to the Fortean Times and the author of a recent debunking book, UFO: The Government Files. During the course of a critique on Nick Pope’s Open Skies, Closed Minds, Brookesmith noted: "His skimpy, sceptic-free bibliography includes one of ufology’s most unhinged books, Linda Moulton Howe’s An Alien Harvest."10 Skeptics publish books for every prejudice. If you doubt Howe’s journalistic integrity you might appreciate a title warmly recommended by Richard Thieme:

Dan Kagan and Ian Summers have written a masterful investigation of "cattle mutilation" (Mute Evidence, Bantam Books, NY, 1984). It details how predator damage becomes "cattle mutilation" conducted with "surgical precision" as a result of media distortion, "professional experts" who kept everyone one step away from the evidence (common in UFO research) and true believers who suspended their capacity for critical judgement.11

John Keel expressed vitriolic disdain for Forteans, whose efforts, he believes, have abandoned the standards set by Charles Hoy Fort.

They hate each other with a fierce passion and are completely suspicious of everyone else. When the first Fortean Society was founded in 1932, the man after whom it was named, Charles Fort, flatly refused to join, grumbling that he would sooner join the Elks. The Society’s journal, Doubt, was published at random intervals, usually one issue every two or three years, and its editorial position was that it was against everything and everybody. ...Since each Fortean has a theory to explain the bizarre things he is investigating, and since each theory contradicts all other theories, the world of Forteana is a bedlam of battered egos and misplaced sentiments. The Forteans not only expect to be ignored, they demand it.12

Keel defended Fort’s own reputation, pointing out that his sources were mostly scientific journals, not newspapers, as often claimed by ill-informed critics.

Intellectual cowardice is only one of the problems of the scientific community. Fort rubbed their noses in the swill generated by their gibberish and illiteracy. It was no secret then and now that academic publications are designed to protect the inept and to conceal ignorance. People with nothing to say, who even lack the ability to say nothing, can hide behind the academic method for a lifetime.13

The respectables

The field of ufology is roughly divided between its orthodox and apocryphal enthusiasts. The dividing line has been blurred by the general acceptance of a modern mythology that embraces UFO crash retrievals, Grey aliens, abductions, underground bases, Majestic 12, crop circles and cattle mutilations. ‘Respected’ ufologists are concerned with demarcating the boundaries of the subject in the name of conventional science, and it is their overview, promulgated in the mass media, which has shaped public perception of the phenomenon. They espouse a governmental ‘cover-up’ but eschew any whiff of a ‘conspiracy theory’, as though the terms are mutually exclusive. The ‘extraterrestrial hypothesis’ is the given framework for their theories, in which case it ceases to be one hypothesis among many and becomes an article of faith.

Jerome Clark is a UFO historian, deputy president of the J. Allen Hynek Centre for UFO Studies and editor of the CUFOS journal, International UFO Reporter. He is highly critical of such luminaries as John Lear, Bob Lazar, Bill Cooper and Dr. Leo Sprinkle, while proffering his own select cases (Lonnie Zamora, Robert Emenegger-Alan Sandier, Robert Suffern) as the most significant in the history of the subject. In two of these cases, it could be countered, the ‘evidence’ involves as much hearsay as any story told by Clark’s foes. He is prepared to accept that something probably did crash near Roswell in 1947 and that this may have been an alien vehicle, which possibly yielded technological secrets that have since been utilised in the development of secret military aircraft.

Clark and fellow researcher Curtis Peebles are satisfied that the alleged crash of a UFO at Aztec, New Mexico, in 1948 was a hoax, based on an investigation by J.P. Cohn which exposed the story as a fraud scheme devised by Silas Newton, an oil magnate. Stanton Friedman is not so sure, while Wendelle Stevens, Bill Hamilton and Virgil Armstrong are convinced that the incident did occur. Armstrong served as an Army captain in the DIA, worked for the CIA and was a major in the elite Green Beret unit during the Vietnam War. He said that a relatively intact disc landed in an area of the White Sands Proving Grounds on March 25th, 1948 and that he was part of the recovery operation which found five diminutive male corpses aboard the craft.

Addressing a UFO conference in Sydney in 1990, Jerome Clark dismissed America’s Borderland Sciences Research Foundation as "an occult group", a breathtaking phrase which, by association, relegates to superstition and pseudo-science the work of centuries of alternate researchers in a multitude of disciplines. Ex-BSRF director Tom Brown believed in putting the "poetry" back into science, a poetry that included esoteric considerations derided by the materialists. In their 1975 book The Unidentified, Lauren Coleman and Jerome Clark suggested that the UFO phenomenon was a human enigma — a combination of cultural belief and visionary experience.

Abduction blues and greys

Bill Cooper, the ‘bete noir’ of American ufology, published Dr. Stephen J. Kerswel’s affidavit against Bud Hopkins, which included Hopkins’ volunteered disclosure of his CIA employment, in Behold a Pale Horse (1991). Appalled by Hopkins’ treatment of abductees, Kerswel mounted an unsuccessful lawsuit against the artist for practising psychiatry without any professional qualifications. This test case gave a green light to anyone wishing to offer their services as an abduction ‘counsellor’.

Ex-CIA agent Derrel Sims runs a support group attached to the Houston UFO Network (HUFON), where the self-described "Master Practitioner in Neuro-Linguistic Programming, Master Hypnotherapist and Master Hypno-Anaesthesiologist"14 hypnotises abductees to wage a bizarre counter-intelligence operation against the evil aliens. Robert Dean and his wife, Cecilia, launched their Crisis Intervention Training Program in Tucson, Arizona, in January, 1996. The 60-hour course trains students to "debrief" abductees. Successful candidates receive a certificate which purportedly authorises them to counsel people who have "some UFO-related trauma".15

The abduction mythology, with its requisite Greys, hybrids and implants, has been formalised by a faction of psychiatrists, psychologists and researchers who discount alternate theories (metaphysical contact, hypnogogic imagery, false memory syndrome, mind control, etc.) Half of all abduction reports emanate from the USA, where individuals like Dr. John Mack, Bud Hopkins, Dr. David Jacobs, Dr. Edith Fiore and Dr. John Carpenter have cultivated a lucrative business in the belief market. Whitley Strieber, responsible for popularising the phenomenon, preaches the need to overcome fear and suspend judgement of the "visitors".

I feel that the present fad of hypnotizing "abductees", which is being engaged in by untrained investigators, will inevitably lead to suffering, breakdown, and possibly even suicide. These investigators usually make the devastating error of assuming that they understand this immense mystery.

They apply nineteenth-century scientific materialism and mechanistic thinking to a problem that actually stretches the limits of the most sophisticated modern thought. These untrained, often poorly educated and unskilled people are spreading a plague of confusion and fear.16

Dr. John Mack plays a 15-minute videocassette at his lectures of an interview he conducted with a bewildered looking Whitley Strieber, whose rambling testimony included an anecdote about looking into the eyes of a "visitor" and gaining instant enlightenment, after which the novelist was able to read people’s minds for a week. Mack compared some of his own experiences on LSD to Strieber’s visitations, after which he faced the camera and said, "Cut that bit out."

Part 1 | Part 2


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