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Fwd: UFO 'science' investigations debunked

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  • Frits Westra
    The Triangle - Sci-Tech Issue: 9/23/04 http://www.thetriangle.org/news/2004/09/23/SciTech/Ufo-science.Investigations.Debunked-729532.shtml UFO science
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 28, 2004
      The Triangle - Sci-Tech
      Issue: 9/23/04


      UFO 'science' investigations debunked
      By Aaron Sakulich

      If you're anything like I am, you would probably be overwhelmed with
      disgust and outrage at seeing an article about UFOs in the science and
      technology section of a newspaper. While on the one hand the details of
      "UFOlogy" don't belong in any reputable paper, a close look at the
      interaction between science and the investigation of UFO claims is very

      The first sightings of UFOs in America occurred around 1896. Hundreds of
      people from all across the country reported seeing objects that can be
      best described as "blimp-like." Long cigar-shaped dirigibles, some with
      wings or propellers, were reported hovering above every state in the
      union. This was before the experiments of the Wright brothers made air
      travel famous, and before the first practical heavier-than-air dirigibles,
      zeppelins or blimps had been made anywhere but Germany.

      Scientists of the time, although racing to discover the secret of flight,
      did not pay much attention to this wave of sightings, and with good
      reason: Over time, a huge number of them proved to be hoaxes,
      misidentifications of regular phenomena, or ploys to increase tourism to
      certain small towns. There were even some silver-tongued gods of
      smooth-talking that managed to sucker thousands of dollars out of people
      with promises of rides in aircraft. With the exception of sociology,
      science really had no part in this wave.

      What it did provide sociologists with was an example of mass hysteria. The
      prevailing feeling at the time was that some backwoods tinkerer would
      build a working aircraft in some remote shanty, and then unleash his
      invention on the world. This is, interestingly, what happened: two
      bicycle-makers from Ohio, Wilbur and Orville Wright, built the first
      functioning American airplane.

      But as soon as this "lone inventor" theory was firmly implanted in the
      minds of the American populace, people began "seeing" UFOs and
      occasionally meeting their inventor, who took on the name Wilson over
      time. Wilson, like the Jersey Devil, never existed but is rather a unique
      slice of American mythology produced by overactive imaginations. The first
      wave of "modern" UFO sightings began in 1947 and would eventually involve
      scientists from every field. The first sighting was by a pilot who spotted
      a number of lights flying in V-formation over the Midwest. He reported it,
      the Air Force went to investigate, and the modern era of UFOs was launched.

      The Air Force played a peculiar role in UFO investigations until the early
      1970s. They were petrified that what people were reporting were actually
      Soviet weapons, so they investigated them with great zeal. As they
      investigated them, civilians such as Donald Keyhoe, an ex-marine major,
      began to take an interest. With increasing public interest, sightings
      increased until 1952 when the Pentagon was so swamped with UFO reports
      that military communications were disrupted. After the 1952 wave, the Air
      Force realized how dangerous UFOs were. Although they had no proof that
      they were Soviet superweapons, just the existence of the UFO problem could
      be used as a great propaganda tool by the Russians. Because of this, the
      Air Force classified all of their UFO investigations, set about trying to
      discredit the witness to such events, and explain away as much as they
      could. Their hopes were that interest in UFOs would die down and not give
      the Soviets any leverage over the imaginations of the American people.

      The opposite happened. Donald Keyhoe founded the National Investigation
      Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP.) He believed that the Air Force was
      trying not to prevent mass hysteria that could be disruptive during times
      of an actual Soviet attack, but was trying to hide the fact that UFOs were
      spaceships from other planets. NICAP, which had as its first board of
      directors a very distinguished group including several army officers and a
      naval Admiral, began lobbying for Congressional hearings. The Air Force
      was afraid that hearings would make it look incompetent or stir up public
      interest and create another "wave" of sightings, and worked feverishly
      against them. Project Sign, the original UFO investigation by the Air
      Force, became Project Grudge, which became Project Blue Book, which was
      little more than a PR move by the Air Force to assure people it was
      investigating and downplay interest.

      In the mid-fifties, "contactees" who claimed to have been contacted by the
      crews of alien spaceships began to appear. It is these people who turned
      investigations of UFOs into a circus of insanity, and I think it fairly
      obvious that each and every one of these people is suffering from a mental
      disorder of one sort or another. But even here, scientists have a chance
      to learn: A psychologist or sociologist could write a lifetime of free
      meal tickets studying the special brand of insanity or greed in these

      It was during this period in the late 1950s and early 1960s that science
      turned against itself. Previous to the cults that popped up around the
      contactees, the prevailing theory in the scientific community was that
      UFOs were some sort of as of yet undocumented natural phenomena: strange
      and rare weather patterns, exotic optical tricks being played on the eyes
      of the unsuspecting, and so forth. Pretty much everyone agreed that the
      UFOs-as-alien-spaceships idea was hogwash.

      When the cult of contactees appeared, scientists were disgusted, and
      rightly so, but in trying to distance themselves from these madmen, they
      completely abandoned a field of research and turned upon themselves.
      Ridicule against anyone even suspected of being interested in UFOs was
      just as destructive to life and reputation as being accused of being a
      communist by Senator McCarthy. When Dr. James McDonald testified to
      congress that use of the Supersonic transport (SST) would decrease the
      ozone layer and cause 10,000 new cases of skin cancer in the US each year,
      Senator Ted Kennedy attacked him for having shown an interest in UFOs. He
      was laughed out of Congress, despite the fact that his claims about the
      SST had scientific background, and a short time later, his career in
      shambles, he took his life.

      The only person to come through this unscathed was J. Allen Hynek. A
      well-regarded astrophysicist, he had begun in 1947 to help the Air Force
      investigate UFO claims. He was such a cautious, methodical man that it
      took him 20 years to change opinions and declare that the Air Force really
      wasn't investigating things properly, and that room for serious scientific
      study existed. In the end, Hynek was right. UFOs are certainly not Soviet
      superweapons, as sightings have continued past the demise of Russain
      communism, not to mention that the Russians, for a time, thought the UFOs
      they were spotting were American superweapons. A large portion of UFO
      sightings are surely misidentification of aircraft or weather balloons, or
      the erroneous spotting of planets, stars, or other astronautic phenomena.

      A larger portion surely fall under the category of hallucinations, the
      products of diseased minds, and hoaxes. Nonetheless, there are still a
      large number of cases that go unsolved and uninvestigated. Scientists are
      squandering opportunities to explore the unexplained, possibly discovering
      new meteorological phenomena, new chemical or biological phenomena (once,
      even swamp gas was not understood) or, at the very least, a better
      understanding of the workings and depravities of the human mind.

      No one is better suited to investigating UFOs than scientists, and, as a
      whole, no group has ever neglected the duty of their chosen livelihoods
      more than scientists have in refusing to treat such matters with an
      impartial investigation.

      Aaron Sakulich is a senior majoring in materials science and engineering.

      Copyright © 2004 The Triangle and College Publisher.
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