Read an Excerpt
" These were some of the thoughts that came to mind in December 1996, when Mr. Laurance Rockefeller asked about my thoughts on what might be done to learn what lies behind UFO reports. I had come to recognize the complexity of the issue, and I had also learned something about what works and what does not work in scientific research.
For the last thirty years, I have been involved in theoretical research into solar physics, wrestling with a number of puzzles such as why the Sun's outer atmosphere, the corona, has a temperature of a million degrees, and what happens during a solar explosion called a flare. I have learned that it is helpful to break down each of these complex issues into a number of simpler phenomena that raise more specific questions. It is always tempting to develop a theory to answer such a question and then immediately check that theory against the data. Sometimes that procedure works, but more often it does not. If I try four or five ideas and none of them work, I finally realize that I must change my attitude and adopt a different strategy. At that stage, my best option is to recognize that (a) I do not understand the phenomenon; (b) I need to study the data much more carefully; and (c) the best question to ask is, What is the Sun trying to tell me? I believe that the UFO problem needs a similar approach. Scientists need to ask, first, What are the facts? and second, What are those facts trying to tell us?
However, this is not so easy. Concerning the UFO problem, Richard Feynman did not see any solid, clear-cut facts in 1963, and most scientists do not see any such facts today, beyond the obvious one that reports continue. Social scientists and detectives are used to dealing with anecdotal reports; physical scientists are not. If a witness is taken to a scientific research institution and asked to describe his or her observations, it is highly unlikely that this will lead to any significant relevant research. On the other hand, if the witness can produce some physical evidence, such as a photograph, a tape recording, or a piece of metal, there is a great deal that the staff of a well-equipped laboratory could do. If careful field investigation of ten separate UFO events, each with strong witness testimony, were to produce ten items of physical evidence, if each item were analyzed in several different laboratories, and if the resulting reports showed that the items were (a) very similar, and (b) very unusual, then we would have not only evidence, but a pattern among the evidence. We would have established a fact.
If it does indeed turn out that there is relevant physical evidence, if this evidence is carefully collected and analyzed, and if this analysis leads to the identification of several facts concerning the UFO phenomenon, then will be the time for scientists to step back and ask, What are these facts trying to tell us? If those facts are strong enough to lead to a firm conclusion, then will be the time to confront the more bizarre questions. If, for instance, it turns out that all physical evidence is consistent with a mundane interpretation of the causes of UFO reports, there will be little reason to continue to speculate about the role of extraterrestrial beings. If, on the other hand, the analysis of physical evidence turns up very strong evidence that objects related with UFO reports were manufactured outside the solar system, then one must obviously consider very seriously that the phenomenon involves not only extraterrestrial vehicles but probably also extraterrestrial beings.
For these reasons, it was my opinion that the very first step in the direction of scientific research into the UFO problem would be a determination of whether or not there even exists physical evidence related to UFO reports. This specific question could be addressed by means of a panel review, as we discuss further in Chapter 5, "Introduction to Pocantico." The review and the resulting report are contained in this book, together with some selected case studies.
Experienced UFO investigators find that the majority of reports that come to their attention can be attributed to natural occurrences, familiar objects seen under unusual circumstances, et cetera. A very small percentage of reports will be recognized as due to hoaxes perpetrated on or by the witnesses. Of the remaining reports, many will be uninteresting because they contain little information, or conflicting information, and little or no supporting evidence. A very small fraction of the cases have good documentation (but usually not as good as one might like) and some form of physical evidence (but never as much as one might like). A few of these interesting and challenging cases (drawn from those presented in summary form to the review panel) may be found in Part Five of this book. However, before getting into this review, it may be helpful to go back to the very beginning of the UFO story.
© 1999 by Peter A. Sturrock"