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Whether interplanetary tourists, interlopers from a parallel universe, or mere misfirings in the brain, UFOs and "aliens" permeate popular culture. They've made the covers of Time, Life, and the New York Times Book Review; garnered CNN coverage; turned up on Larry King Live and other high-profile talk shows; attracted large audiences for films and television series; and swamped the Internet with thousands of websites and discussion groups.
Despite this pervasive presence, few scholars have been willing to study the perplexing phenomena behind these cultural signifiers. Wary of a field that seems tainted by suspect methods and outlandish theories, many have logically stayed away.
The relative lack of academic participation, however, creates a vicious circle that prevents the development of standards that would attract greater academic participation and, thus, credibility and funding for the field. Meanwhile, the phenomenon, rather than fading from public awareness, continues to grow and evolve.
In response, this volume provides a kind of primer for scholars, skeptics, and others uneasy about investigating this field. Its authors examine the nature of UFO "evidence"; discuss the methodological debates; incorporate research from science, history, mythology, and psychology; and highlight the reactions of the government and military from the Cold War to the present. It also brings together for the first time in one book three bestselling authors—Jacobs, Budd Hopkins, and Pulitzer Prize winner John Mack—widely known for their writings on the highly controversial "alien abduction" phenomenon.
Ufology and Academia:
The UFO Phenomenon as
a Scholarly Discipline
The growth and development of scholarly disciplines depend largely on their acceptance within the halls of academe. It is here that disciplines achieve the identity and respect that attract funding and draw future practitioners to the field. It is here that an infrastructure is created for the allocation of resources needed to advance and communicate knowledge. With the recognition of the academy comes professional organizations, refereed journals, annual conferences, and discipline-based texts. Without these sources of recognition and support, avocations fail to become scholarly vocations, and otherwise worthy fields of study fail to flourish.
For "scientific" disciplines, these issues are even more relevant. Since World War II, funding for basic science has increased dramatically, with the bulk of those funds going to university-based researchers. And while research can thrive within industry or government, a field's imprimatur as a "science" is nearly always bestowed through its acceptance by university-affiliated academics.
For these reasons, all new academic areas of interest (conventional or not) strive for membership in the academy. But in this regard, the study of unidentified flying objects (i.e., "ufology") has had little success. To understand why, it is helpful to examine the impediments to any discipline's emergence, maintenance, and evolution, especially for disciplines that aspire to be considered scientific.Among these obstacles are a need for clarity regarding the nature of the discipline, a pervasive resistance to interdisciplinary fields, and acceptance of the discipline's central tenets, hypotheses, and methodologies. In examining these issues, this chapter focuses exclusively on the work of academics. It does this for thematic clarity only, and neither rejects nor is unaware of the many contributions to ufology by professionals, scientists, and laypersons not affiliated with academic institutions.
Discipline Clarity and Interdisciplinarity
Academic disciplines represent collections of related knowledge specialties. There is certainly no shortage of such specialties. Indeed, Crane and Small were able to identify over eighty-five hundred separate knowledge fields in existence by 1987. In principle, then, ufology should be able to find its niche as a knowledge specialty within some established academic discipline. However, while hypotheses abound, little has been verified about UFOs' true nature. For this reason, the discipline to which ufology properly "belongs" (e.g., physics, psychology, sociology) remains unclear. By necessity, then, the study of UFOs requires an interdisciplinary approach.
This necessity creates a problem for ufology if it is to gain a foothold in academia. Jacobs has pointed out:
When the nature of the UFO controversy is understood ... and when the interdisciplinary nature of the phenomenon is grasped (no one knows to what discipline the subject belongs simply because not enough yet is known of the subject), a meaningful start can be made on a truly scientific study of the subject, which can then be approached as scientific subjects should be approached—without prejudice or emotional bias.
The problem, however, is not simply one of recognizing ufology's interdisciplinary character. Such recognition creates its own dilemma for ufology. As discussed by Klein, "for much of the twentieth century, the surface structure of academic institutions has been dominated by disciplinarities." Klein refers here to the traditional disciplines on which academic curricula are based and to the resistance to crossing the boundaries those disciplines impose. This influence has been characterized as so fundamental to the academy that it constitutes a "first principle" upon which academic institutions are structured. It is a structure maintained not only by ideology but also by procedures and criteria for professional advancement and accountability.
The interdisciplinary nature of ufology is not unique. Indeed, Klein asserts that knowledge in general is becoming increasingly interdisciplinary. This perception, as well as new interdisciplinary technologies, methodologies, and vehicles for professional communication, blends the boundaries between traditional disciplines and fosters an openness to both interdisciplinary curricula and interdisciplinary research. Notwithstanding, opposition to disciplinary boundary crossing persists at academic institutions, and scholarly activity remains largely cloistered within discrete academic units. This ongoing resistance to interdisciplinary structures represents a continuing obstacle to ufology's acceptance as a discrete area of scholarship. As a consequence, ufology can neither find an existing home in the established disciplines nor create a new one for itself.
Independent of disciplinary issues, ufology has had considerable difficulty gaining recognition as a science. For a variety of reasons, it is viewed by many as a pseudoscience. For example, Edward O. Wilson cites ufology as a classic example of a pseudoscience. Real sciences, he argues, are distinguished from the impostors by meeting the following five criteria: (1) repeatability (confirmation or disconfirmation of results by a series of independent investigations), (2) economy (the ability to yield "the largest amount of information with the least amount of effort"), (3) mensuration (measurement with universally accepted scales), (4) heuristics (the ability to advance discovery that bears upon original principles), and (5) consilience (consistency and convergence of explanations for related phenomena).
Students of ufology can reach their own conclusions about which, if any, of these criteria the field does not possess, but for Wilson, "ufology, sadly, possesses none." More sadly for ufology's proponents, Wilson's perception is extant among academics. Consider the following statement from an article published in the Chronicle of Higher Education, academia's premier news periodical, in which Ferris laments some of the consequences of popularizing science for the general public: "We should keep in mind ... how little progress scientists have made in enlightening the citizenry, nearly half of whom think that their planet is a UFO landing site."
Statements such as these are common, and they indicate that ufology is not simply rejected as a legitimate discipline; for many, it is categorically dismissed. This is a critical difference. Rejection suggests a conclusion based on close examination and careful reflection. Dismissal is an a priori judgment that close examination is not warranted.
This attitude of dismissal is self-perpetuating. A scientist's initial interest in a phenomenon is typically acquired not by personal familiarity but by exposure to the works of knowledgeable colleagues. In the absence of such works, the attention of the uninitiated is much less likely to be gained.
The problem is exacerbated in another way. Because so few scientists have chosen to examine ufology firsthand, much of the research in the field has had to be conducted by lay individuals who lack scientific degrees or appropriate technical training. To the scientific community—which defines itself not only by its methods but also by the credentials of its members—this sends an implicit message that such activity might put one's professional advancement at risk. As a consequence, the field continues to be ignored by those whose attention it needs most.
Another obstacle to the acceptance of ufology as a science is that one of its central hypotheses (e.g., that UFOs are extraterrestrial craft) is given little credence in the scientific community. Carl Sagan (professor of astronomy and director of planetary studies at Cornell University) and Thornton Page (professor of astronomy at Wesleyan University) noted that "the public interest in the subject, but not the scientific interest, derives from the idea that unidentified flying objects are space vehicles sent to the earth from elsewhere in the universe." This may seem paradoxical, given that most scientists regard the probability of intelligent life on other planets as exceedingly high. However, scientists reject the notion that extraterrestrials could accomplish interplanetary flight or, if they could come here, that extraterrestrials would choose to avoid overt contact with the earth's inhabitants. Although logical and empirical arguments can be advanced to counter such reasoning, the summary dismissal of this idea, even as just a hypothesis worth testing, continues to prevail. No field will be recognized as a science if its central tenets and hypotheses are not considered plausible.
An additional problem is that the database in ufology is primarily one of UFO reports (sightings). That is, testimony rather than material evidence represents the foundation of the field. This largely precludes repeatable, controlled experimental observation, the kind of methodology that represents the hallmark of scientific investigation. Although this situation is not without precedent in some established sciences (e.g., in regard to many aspects of astronomy), the elusive and fleeting nature of ufological observations makes the gathering of data particularly problematic. Physical evidence does exist (photographs, radar traces, soil and plant effects, physiological effects on witnesses), but most scientists either are unaware of this evidence or regard it as insufficiently probative.
The lack of acceptable hypotheses, methodologies, and credentialed researchers, along with the aforementioned issues of discipline identity, converge as a serious impediment to the acceptance of ufology by the scientific and academic communities. In turn, this lack of acceptance inhibits the development of other discipline-supporting structures. For example:
1. There is only one peer-reviewed journal (the Journal of UFO Studies) dedicated to the subject of ufology.
2. There are no professional societies for ufology in which membership or participation reflects upon the credentials of its members. Indeed, what credentials would be appropriate for such affiliation have not been established. There are a number of organizations that serve the interests of both scholars and interested laypersons (e.g., the Mutual UFO Network [MUFON], the Society for Scientific Exploration [SSE], and the J. Allen Hynek Center for UFO Studies [CUFOS], but none of these are true professional organizations. The Committee for Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP) is a skeptics group composed of many academics (its founder is a philosopher at the State University of New York at Buffalo), but, again, membership does not require an academic affiliation.
3. There are no annual professional meetings in ufology. MUFON has an annual convention, but this attracts a primarily lay audience. SSE's annual meetings often include individual papers on ufology, but not sessions routinely dedicated to the subject.
4. There exist no textbooks in the field (a number of scholarly books have been written on the subject, but none serves as an introductory text to the discipline). Indeed, academic presses have had little interest in publishing any books dealing with ufology (the present volume is a welcome exception).
5. Traditional sources of funding are almost nonexistent for UFO research. Although funding from private sources is available (e.g., the Fund for UFO Research), the moneys available are typically very modest, and the peer review process is rarely carried out by academics.
Scholars hoping to change this situation can do so only by slowly chipping away at these attitudinal and situational barriers through contributions of their own. And this requires a perseverance in the face of institutional opposition that more mainstream scholars need not face. Nevertheless, the field of ufology has attracted just such individuals throughout its half century of existence.
The Invisible College
J. Allen Hynek, an astronomer at Ohio State University's McMillin Observatory, and later director of the Lindheimer Astronomical Research Center at Northwestern University, served as the chief scientific consultant and spokesperson for the U.S. Air Force's official investigation of UFOs from 1948 to 1969. Although as air force spokesperson he often generated dismissive explanations for UFO reports, he later became the main scientific advocate for ufology as a legitimate scholarly pursuit. Commenting on the involvement of other academics, Hynek used an analogy with the "Invisible College of London and Oxford," an informal group of scholars whose meetings (in 1645) preceded the founding of the Royal Society of London for the Promotion of Natural Knowledge. The membership of the Invisible College was made up of followers of Sir Francis Bacon, an advocate of data-driven scientific inquiry, rather than the prevailing science dictated by the dogma of established authority. Hynek suggested that ufologists, like the members of the Invisible College before them, have "to sneak, so to speak, through back alleys" to pursue their interest in a subject outside the scientific establishment:
I have positive evidence from personal correspondence and conversations with scientists that their interest is increasing but that it is still, in most cases, anonymous. There is truly a growing "Invisible College" of scientifically and technically trained persons who are intrigued by the UFO phenomenon and who, if provided with opportunity, time, and facilities, are most willing to undertake its serious study. They represent an international group ready to accept the challenge of the UFO.
Although there is little evidence that the Invisible College has grown substantially in the fifteen years since Hynek's observations, there is ample evidence that it does continue to exist. This is reflected by the participation of academics in several major scholarly events, and by the independent contributions of academics across a variety of disciplines.
Major Academic Events in Ufology
Perhaps the first major involvement of academics in analyzing the data from UFO sightings was the Robertson Panel. This group, convened in January 1953, was assembled by the U.S. Air Force and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in response to an alarming increase in the number of sighting reports. The panel included a number of academics: H. P. Robertson (California Institute of Technology), Luis Alvarez (a future Nobel laureate from the University of California, Berkeley), Lloyd Berkner (a physicist formerly from MIT), and Thornton Page (at that time an astrophysicist at Johns Hopkins University). The panel spent twelve hours examining six years' worth of data. Although the Robertson Panel was not an academic meeting per se, these individuals set the tone for much of what followed in academic circles, concluding that most sightings had an apparent conventional explanation and that the rest were not worth the effort to investigate.
The University of Colorado Study
(The "Condon Report")
Perhaps the best-known (and most notorious) involvement of academia with the UFO phenomenon was the Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects, an air force-commissioned project carried out under the direction of Edward U. Condon, a professor of physics and astrophysics at the University of Colorado. Condon was a prominent researcher and a former director of the National Bureau of Standards who served on numerous government projects, including the atomic bomb program as district head at the Los Alamos Manhattan Project. Although Condon's staff on the study was composed primarily of faculty from the University of Colorado, there were also representatives from the University of Wyoming, the University of Arizona, the University of Chicago, and the Stevens Institute of Technology. This group represented the disciplines of psychology, astronomy, astrophysics, physical chemistry, meteorology, engineering, psychiatry, and astrogeophysics.
William K. Hartmann, a professor of astronomy at the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, carried out an analysis of photographic evidence. Although the vast majority of photographs could be attributed to mundane events, about 2 percent of the photographic cases remained unidentified. Hartmann concluded that none of the unidentifieds were conclusive proof of extraterrestrial activity, but they were "not inconsistent with the hypothesis that unknown and extraordinary aircraft have penetrated the airspace of the United States."
Physical evidence (reputed landing traces, material artifacts, electromagnetic disturbances, radiation, and electrical malfunctions or power interruptions) was examined by Roy Craig, a professor of physical sciences in the Division of Integrated Studies at the University of Colorado. Craig was generally unimpressed with the physical evidence examined by the project, except for alleged malfunction of automobile motors. He noted, "The claim [of vehicular interference] is frequently made, sometimes in reports, which are impressive because they involve multiple independent witnesses. Witnesses seem certain that the function of their cars was affected by the unidentified object, which sometimes reportedly was not seen until after the malfunction was noted. No satisfactory explanation for such effects, if indeed they occurred, is apparent."
Franklin E. Roach, a member of the Astrogeophysics Department at the University of Colorado, examined observations made by U.S. astronauts, a group whose "training and perspicacity ... put their reports of sightings in the highest category of credibility." Roach highlighted three such sightings he felt were "a challenge to the analyst" and for which "we shall have to find a rational explanation or, alternatively, keep it on our list of unidentifieds."
Despite these statements from its own academic staff (and the fact that nearly one-third of its analyzed case studies remained "unidentified"), the official conclusion of the Condon Report was that "further extensive study of UFOs probably cannot be justified in the expectation that science will be advanced thereby.... UFO phenomena do not offer a fruitful field in which to look for major scientific discoveries." This obvious disconnect between the findings and conclusions of the Condon Report remains a source of controversy, and dissenting opinion has come not only from independent readers of the report but also from its participating academic staff.
The controversy over the Condon Report had its impact on a second major event. The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) sponsored a symposium on UFOs in Boston during December 1969. Originally the symposium had been planned for the year before, but it was postponed so the Condon Report could be available to its participants. Presenters at the symposium included faculty from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), Cornell, Harvard, the University of Arizona, Northwestern University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Wesleyan, and the University of Hawaii and represented the disciplines of psychology, medicine, physics, astronomy, and sociology. Carl Sagan and Thornton Page, editors of the book based on these proceedings, note that the study of UFOs by scientists is important, if only to aid in a public understanding and acceptance of science:
All of us who teach at colleges and universities are aware of a drift away from science. Some of the sensitive, intelligent, and concerned young people are finding science increasingly less attractive and less relevant to their problems.... We all agree that this drift is deplorable. It must be due in part to their misunderstanding of what science is about.... There seems to us to be an ... important area which has not been adequately stressed, namely, the application of scientific thinking to problems of human interest.
Sagan and Page suggest that the subject of UFOs is certainly one of these topics, and that "it seems to be unprofitable [for science] to ignore it." In the same spirit, Page provided an overview of some selected UFO cases and a defense of ufology as an opportunity to "take advantage of public interest in UFOs to correct public misconceptions about science."
William Hartmann and Franklin Roach, two participants in the Condon project, provided perspectives (respectively) on the history of UFOs and astronomers' views about them. J. Allen Hynek, an astronomer who made his own significant contribution to the history of ufology, described his twenty-one years of studying UFO reports for the U.S. Air Force's official UFO investigation. In doing so, Hynek set forth the fundamental arguments for interest, importance, and open-mindedness that academic ufologists have continued to champion:
Reports of UFO observations remain after we delete the pronouncements of crackpots, visionaries, religious fanatics, and so forth. A large number of UFO reports are readily identifiable by trained investigators as misperception of known objects and events. A small residue of UFO reports are [sic] not so identifiable.... They are made by competent, responsible, psychologically normal people—in short, credible witnesses. These reports contain descriptive terms, which collectively do not specify any known physical event, object, or process. And, furthermore, they resist translation into terms that do apply to known physical and/or psychological events, objects, and processes.... Although I know of no hypothesis that adequately covers the mounting evidence, this should not and must not deter us from [being] curious, capable of being astonished, and eager to find out.
Empirical support for Hynek's position was provided by James E. McDonald, a professor of atmospheric sciences and senior physicist with the Institute for Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Arizona. Echoing Hynek's complaint of academic neglect, McDonald titled his presentation "Science in Default" and presented an unapologetic condemnation of the scientific community's failure to give the subject proper attention:
No scientifically adequate investigation of the UFO problem has been carried out during the entire twenty-two-year period between the first extensive wave of sightings of unidentified aerial objects in the summer of 1947 and the convening of this symposium. Despite continued public interest and frequent expression of public concern, only quite superficial examinations of the steadily growing body of unexplained UFO reports from credible witnesses have been conducted in this country and abroad. ... I believe science is in default for having failed to mount any truly adequate studies of this problem.
McDonald was equally critical of the Condon Report, which he felt did not provide "anything superior to the generally casual and often incompetent level of case analysis that marked [the official air force investigation's] handling of the UFO problem."
Not all participants agreed with Hynek and McDonald's assessment of ufology's importance. For example, Sagan argued that an examination of the UFO problem was not "the most efficient method" to search for extraterrestrial intelligence (an activity which, in contrast, he deemed "exceedingly important [for] both science and society"). Robert M. L. Baker, a lecturer at the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, UCLA, found much of interest in photographic evidence, although not necessarily consistent with the traditional concept of a "UFO." The data, he felt, provide "substantial evidence to support the claim that an unexplained phenomenon ... is present in the environs of the earth, but that it may not be `flying,' may not always be `unidentified' and may not even take the form of substantive `objects.'" Accordingly, Baker argued that "experiments should be devised, and study programs should be initiated" to investigate these anomalies, but that it was unnecessary to justify this in terms of presuppositions about extraterrestrial intelligence.
Of the sixteen conference participants, only Donald H. Menzel (professor of practical astronomy and professor of astrophysics at Harvard University) was openly hostile to ufology, presenting his long-established dismissal of the UFO phenomenon as "a modern myth." Other participants presented valuable perspectives on matters related to the study of UFOs. Robert L. Hall, a professor of sociology at the University of Illinois at Chicago, discussed sociological perspectives of UFO reports. In particular, Hall emphasized the importance of the UFO phenomenon, regardless of its cause:
The very strength of our resistance to the evidence on UFOs suggests ... that there is clearly a phenomenon of surpassing importance here. It is going to force some of us to make some fundamental changes in our knowledge and this is a good definition of scientific importance. The [question is] who has to change.... Do the physical scientists have to accept the existence of such a puzzling and anomalous physical object ...? Or do the behavioral scientists have to accept the puzzling and anomalous fact that hundreds of intelligent, responsible witnesses can continue to be wrong for so many years?
Rounding out the discussion, Douglass R. Price-Williams (professor of psychology, UCLA) and Philip Morrison (professor of physics, MIT) discussed methodological problems in studying UFO reports; Lester Grinspoon and Alan D. Persky (both of the Harvard Medical School) discussed UFO reports from the perspective of psychoanalytic theory; and Frank D. Drake (professor of astronomy, Cornell University) discussed the limitations and frailties of human perception.
Although the conference did little to solve or soften the UFO controversy, it had at least one positive outcome. Acknowledging the "potential value" of the air force's records on UFOs, the conference presenters, along with the president of the AAAS (the conference sponsor) joined in requesting that the air force files be preserved, declassified, and made accessible to physical and behavioral scientists. This request reinforced the philosophy of science as a system of open and careful inquiry, and for ufology as a legitimate area of scholarship.
Abduction Study Conference at MIT
The extraterrestrial hypothesis for UFOs has led to an even more controversial hypothesis, namely, that the occupants of the UFOs are engaged in the practice of kidnapping earthlings for their own unearthly purposes. As implausible as such an idea may seem at first analysis, the "alien abduction experience" is seen by those who believe in the extraterrestrial origin of UFOs as a logical explanation for why such travelers would choose to carry out their visitations covertly.
In response to literally thousands of alien abduction accounts, an Abduction Study Conference was held at MIT in June 1992. The proceedings of the conference have been published as a nearly seven-hundred-page volume of divergent opinion on what has emerged as one of ufology's most talked about phenomena. The conference featured presentations by over fifty participants, including mental health practitioners in private practice, abduction experience investigators, and academics from a wide range of disciplines and institutions.
Among the academics contributing case studies or discussions of methodology were Stuart Appelle (professor of psychology, State University of New York, College at Brockport); James Harder (professor of mechanical engineering and civil engineering, University of California, Berkeley); and David Jacobs (professor of history, Temple University). In the physical sciences, David E. Pritchard (professor of physics, MIT) described a preliminary investigation of a reputed "implant" obtained from an abduction experiencer; the results were consistent with a terrestrial biological origin. Paul Horowitz (professor of physics, Harvard University) and Michael D. Papagiannis (professor of physics, Boston University) discussed their involvement in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence by radio telescope and their reasons for skepticism regarding the current presence of alien life-forms on earth.
In the behavioral and social sciences, papers on the psychology of the abduction experience were presented by John Mack (professor of psychiatry, Harvard Medical School); Susan Powers (Woodstock Academy); Norman Don (a neuropsychologist in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Illinois at Chicago); Don Donderi (professor of psychology, McGill University); and Maralyn Teare (clinical instructor of psychiatry, University of Southern California School of Medicine). Sociological perspectives were addressed by Ron Westrum (Eastern Michigan University); Mark Rodeghier (University of Illinois at Chicago); and Robert Hall (University of Illinois at Chicago). Gerald Eichhoefer (professor of computer studies and philosophy, William Jewell College) and J. Gordon Melton (Department of Religious Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara) discussed theological issues related to the abduction experience, while Thomas E. Bullard (Indiana University) and David Hufford (Pennsylvania State College of Medicine) presented papers on folkloric aspects of the phenomenon.
In all, the conference provided an unusually rich variety of evidence and opinion, an opportunity for academics and other professionals to openly discuss their observations and conclusions, and an occasion for considerable attention from the media. It also led to development of an ethics code for investigators and mental health practitioners as a guide for research and therapy with abduction experiencers. This document complements those in the established professional disciplines for other work with human subjects and patients.
Physical Science Review Panel
Although the abduction phenomenon may provide a theoretical rationale for surreptitious UFO activity, it is based almost exclusively on testimony. The evidence for UFO sightings themselves is also largely testimonial, but here physical evidence in support of such reports has been much more forthcoming. Recognizing the evidential limitations of testimony alone, a panel was convened in the fall of 1997 to focus exclusively on physical evidence of UFOs. Through the efforts of Project Director Peter Sturrock (Center for Space Science and Astrophysics, Stanford University), the meeting was organized under the aegis of the Society for Scientific Exploration, an organization dedicated to meaningful examination of scientific anomalies. The steering committee responsible for planning this workshop included (in addition to a number of scientists affiliated with research, rather than academic, facilities), Robert Jahn (professor of aerospace engineering, Princeton University), David E. Pritchard (professor of physics, MIT), Charles R. Tolbert (professor of astronomy, University of Virginia), and Yervant Terzian (Department of Astronomy, Cornell University).
Physical evidence was provided by eight experienced investigators of the UFO phenomenon in the categories of photographic and video evidence, aircraft equipment anomalies, radar evidence, automobile engine anomalies, physical injury to witnesses, spectroscopic data, ground traces, and effects on vegetation. The group of academics asked to study this evidence included Von Eshleman (Emeritus Professor of Electrical Engineering, Stanford University), J. R. Jokopii and H. J. Melosh (professors of planetary sciences and astronomy, University of Arizona), James J. Papike (head of the Institute of Meteoritics and professor of earth and planetary sciences, University of New Mexico), and Bernard Veyret (Bioelectromagnetics Laboratory, University of Bordeaux).
Although the panel found no evidence to convince its members that unknown physical processes or extraterrestrial intelligence was involved, it did conclude (1) that the UFO problem is not simple, nor is any simple explanation likely to be universally applicable; (2) that unexplained observations provide learning opportunities for science; (3) that some form of "formal, regular contact" between the UFO and physical scientist communities could be productive; and (4) that institutional support for research in ufology should be provided. These conclusions, like those that emerged from the earlier AAAS symposium, were at odds with the conclusion of the Condon Report that the scientific study of UFOs is unjustified.
Contemporary Ufology in Academia:
Theoretical and Empirical Contributions Across the Disciplines
Beyond these organized activities, academics working independently have made numerous scholarly contributions to the study of UFOs. The Invisible College to which J. Allen Hynek referred has remained active throughout the phenomenon's fifty-year history and continues to be active today. Reflecting the field's interdisciplinary character, the Invisible College's faculty (a number of whom, not surprisingly, are contributors to the present volume) represent a wide range of disciplines and have treated the subject of UFOs from a variety of perspectives. Certainly, not all of these scholars regard themselves as "ufologists." The subject in general may not reflect their primary areas of interest and, indeed, does not represent the traditional academic disciplines with which they identify (as has been argued, academia has yet to accept ufology as a discipline). Regardless, their contributions are many. A sample of contemporary work is presented in the following (this sample aims to be representative rather than comprehensive).
The Natural Sciences
Astronomy/Astrophysics. Perhaps the best-known academic commentator on UFOs was the late Carl Sagan, who wrote frequently on what he perceived as logical and empirical fallacies regarding UFOs and the abduction experience. Sagan rejected an extraterrestrial explanation for the phenomenon but felt there were both empirical and pedagogical benefits to examining UFO reports and that the subject was, therefore, a legitimate topic for study.
The attitudes of astronomers in general were studied by Peter Sturrock (Stanford University Center for Space Science and Astrophysics), who polled over one thousand members of the American Astronomical Society to determine their views on possible causes of UFO reports. Sturrock's survey suggested that the typical member of this society shared views not dissimilar from Sagan's. In summary, Sturrock reports that "scientists have thoughts and views but no answers concerning the UFO problem [and] although there is no consensus, more scientists are of the opinion that the problem certainly or probably deserves scientific study than are of the opinion that it certainly or probably does not." Mark Rodeghier (a sociologist at the University of Illinois at Chicago) obtained similar findings from a group of respondents representing a much wider range of academic disciplines. Presumably this attitude accounts for the widespread (albeit limited) involvement of the Invisible College in matters ufological.
Botany. Physical evidence sometimes includes reports of effects to the fauna or flora in the immediate vicinity of the reported UFO. These may take the form of effects on the human observers, nearby animals, or plants and soil. Michel Bounias, a botanist at the University of Avignon (France), has applied the technique of biochemical traumatology to investigate a significant sighting case that left anomalous ground traces associated with the reported object's landing.
The case in question involves a 1981 report of an anomalous object observed outside the village of Trans-en-Provence, France. The reported landing occurred at a site where two concentric circles, 2.5 to 3 meters in diameter, were left on the ground. Based on his analysis of plant samples taken from within and outside this area, Bounias concludes that "something unusual did occur that might be consistent ... with an electromagnetic source of stress" and that the "influence of the unidentified source" of these anomalous findings "decreased with increasing distance from the epicenter" of the ground trace.
Physics. Edward Zeller and Gisela Dreschoff, physicists at the Radiation Physics Laboratory, Space Technology Center, University of Kansas, conducted an analysis of UFO report frequency as a function of radiation in the earth's atmosphere. The authors found a positive correlation between the frequency of UFO reports and particle radiation in the form of galactic cosmic rays, whereas there was little relationship between sightings and solar radiation. Although the implications of these findings are not clear, they do demonstrate the kind of meaningful analysis that physicists can bring to bear on the UFO phenomenon.
David Pritchard, a professor of physics at MIT and one of the chief organizers of the Abduction Study Conference at MIT, has used his expertise to examine a reputed "alien implant." The object came from an abduction experiencer who reported it had spontaneously dislodged after having been placed within him at an early age by his alien captors. Using the sophisticated technology available in his laboratory (scanning electron microscopy, Auger electron analysis of an object's elemental composition, secondary ion mass spectroscopy), Pritchard was able to demonstrate that the object in question had properties consistent with that of terrestrial organic matter. Pritchard also provided a valuable theoretical commentary on the limitations of physics in settling questions regarding the alien origin of any reputed artifact, the need to demonstrate such an origin through an object's function rather than its composition, and the burdens of doing research in this field. Referring to the "amazing amount of time and money" involved, Pritchard observed:
Properly analyzing an artifact like this demands a multidisciplinary group with chemists, biologists, and material scientists of various sub-specialties as well as several experts on each of the various machines and techniques used in the analysis.... However, the fact that abduction-related implants are not on the mainline scientific agenda means that [one] can't possibly get enough support and help to do an analysis of the requisite quality.
Pritchard's personal observation is a snapshot of the obstacles academics face when studying the UFO phenomenon. His work in the area, however, is testimony that the Invisible College continues to contribute in spite of these obstacles.
Another physicist, Charles B. Moore (Professor Emeritus of Atmospheric Physics at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology) examined one explanation for the notorious report of a crashed UFO at Roswell, New Mexico. Moore had been project engineer for research and development related to Project Mogul, a classified project involving weather balloons to monitor atmospheric effects related to nuclear testing. In this capacity, Moore gained considerable knowledge about the secret project later to be identified by the U.S. Air Force as an explanation for the Roswell incident. Using his direct personal experience, Moore provided considerable background information for a book about this incident.
Jack Kasher, a professor of physics at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, has carried out an extensive analysis of anomalous images appearing on TV camera footage taken from the space shuttle Discovery. These images, suggestive of glowing objects within the vicinity of the shuttle, have been explained by NASA as "orbiter-generated debris illuminated by the Sun against a dark background." Specifically, Kress suggested that these particles were "ice dislodged from the surface of the spacecraft [either from] water dumps [or] oxygen ice from residual liquid oxygen." Based on a frame-by-frame examination of the videotape and on data from shuttle structural and performance characteristics, Kasher presented five mathematical proofs that demonstrate the ice particle explanation is not tenable. He suggested that the images represent physical evidence of UFO activity in earth's near orbit.
As noted earlier by the Physical Science Review Panel, scientists need physical evidence if they are to make contributions in their fields. The preceding examples indicate that such evidence does exist and that, by examining it, physical scientists can make meaningful contributions to the knowledge base in ufology.
Behavioral and Social Sciences
Cultural Anthropology. Charles Ziegler and Benson Saler, cultural anthropologists at Brandeis University, have looked at the Roswell case from the perspective of their discipline. They argue that Roswell "can be best understood as an example of a modern myth" and, accordingly, in terms of the theories and concepts of cultural anthropology. In the process, they make some valuable observations about the evolution of Roswell accounts by witnesses and investigators, its impact on belief systems, the role of the media in shaping those beliefs, and relationships between UFO lore and folklore.
Another researcher with a background in folklore studies is Thomas E. Bullard, of Indiana University. Bullard's dissertation, "Mysteries in the Eyes of the Beholder," examined the UFO phenomenon from a folkloric perspective. Extending this perspective to the abduction phenomenon, he writes:
The question before us is not whether UFOs are folklore. They certainly are, and just as certainly resemble other folklore in form and function. The question of greater concern must be what else are UFOs, if anything. The coherency of abduction reports stands out as the most unequivocal piece of evidence that folklore scholarship contributes to the UFO mystery. What fails to act like a fictitious or well-circulated narrative is probably not altogether fictitious or well circulated. Something more than familiar folkloric processes seems responsible for these reports.
Psychology. The UFO phenomenon is characterized by reports of unusual observations, that is, by behavior and perception. Because the study of behavior and perception is a primary focus of academic psychology, one might expect that psychologists would be contributing widely to the study of UFO reports. However, they have made relatively few contributions of this kind, perhaps because psychologists' special understanding of anomalous experience and behavior leads them to have especially low expectations that new knowledge will emerge from its study.
One exception to this rule is Michael A. Persinger, a professor at Laurentian University, who has published extensively on a neuropsychological basis to UFO reports. One theory he has promoted suggests that tectonic strains in the earth's crust (earthquakes and other stresses) generate anomalous lights that are mistaken as UFOs. Moreover, Persinger argues that tectonic stresses may generate electromagnetic fields that could cause electrical instability in the human brain. This, in turn, could result in anomalous perceptions interpreted by the affected individual as a UFO or even an abduction experience.
The abduction experience, unlike UFO sightings themselves, has received a good deal of attention from the psychological community. For example, Nicholas Spanos (Carleton University) used an extensive battery of psychological tests to study the characteristics of persons reporting close encounters with UFOs or aliens. He and his colleagues found "no support whatsoever for the hypothesis that UFO reporters are psychologically disturbed [and] the onus is on those who favor the psychopathology hypothesis to provide support for it."
Alternatively, Robert Baker, a psychologist at the University of Kentucky, has attributed abduction experiences to a variety of anomalous psychological factors, including sleep paralysis, hypnogogic hallucinations, and the effects of hypnotic suggestion. Kenneth Ring (University of Connecticut) looked for personality factors associated with the phenomenon and found unusual personality characteristics in the absence of pathology. Comparing individuals with close encounters to those reporting near-death experiences, Ring found many similarities between these two populations. He interprets this fact as suggesting a common propensity for such experiences across these two groups. These and many other psychological explanations for the abduction experience have been reviewed by Appelle, who concludes that "no theory yet enjoys enough empirical support to be accepted as a general explanation."
In addition to these psychologists, a number of investigators with a background in psychiatry (e.g., John Mack, Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School; David Gotlib, Department of Psychiatry, Johns Hopkins University Hospital) have studied abduction experiencers from a clinical perspective. These writers have provided insight into treatment for the emotional and behavioral sequelae of the abduction experience. One of the most extensive analyses of UFO reports from a psychoanalytical perspective was done by Carl Jung, one of the founders of psychoanalytical theory.
Sociology. UFOs influence not only their observers but also society in general and the community of researchers who study the phenomenon. Charles F. Emmons (Department of Sociology, Gettysburg College) explores the reaction of government, academia, and the media to the study of UFOs, and the relationship between established science and ufology. His treatment of ufology, from the viewpoint of the sociology of science, provides insight into the dynamics of social influence when the "establishment" reacts to a phenomenon outside of establishment science (what Emmons calls "deviant" science).
Australian sociologist Robert E. Bartholomew (James Cook University) has coauthored a book with psychologist George Howard (University of Notre Dame) in which they examine UFO reports throughout history, especially UFO waves or "flaps" (periods of intensified sightings). The authors evaluate these reports from the perspective of the sociological influences of the time, and how those influences can affect human thought, symbolism, and fantasy.
Other sociologists have used that discipline's survey methodologies as a means of learning more about the UFO phenomenon. Ron Westrum (Department of Sociology, Eastern Michigan University) collaborated on the development of a Roper poll designed to assess the prevalence of abduction experiences among the American population. The authors concluded that the phenomenon is extremely widespread, involving perhaps millions of Americans. Alternatively, sociologists Robert Hall and Mark Rodeghier criticized the survey's methodology and argued that no meaningful interpretation regarding abduction experience prevalence could be derived from the data.
History. The UFO phenomenon has been of continuing interest to academic historians. David Jacobs, a professor in the Department of History at Temple University, has provided one of the most comprehensive volumes on early UFO history. More recently, he has changed the direction of his attention from the sightings of UFOs to reports of alien abductions. Although his interpretation of these reports is controversial, his historian's perspective has provided perhaps the most detailed description and taxonomy of abduction report content. Also, according to Jacobs, he offers one of the few (perhaps the only) regular curricular courses on the subject in the United States. Jacobs's course represents another connection between ufology and academia.
One of the most prolific contributors to the ufology literature is Michael Swords, a science historian by training and a professor in the Department of Science Studies at Western Michigan University. Swords's careful examination of historical records has provided important insight into such events as the Condon Report, the U.S. Air Force's Project Sign, and the influence of Donald Keyhoe, one of ufology's earliest popularizers, on Pentagon policy.
Philosophy. Michael E. Zimmerman's interest in ufology focuses on the alien abduction phenomenon. Zimmerman, a professor of philosophy at Tulane University, asks "why this phenomenon is not examined more closely by those in a position to provide a satisfactory explanation of it." To answer that question, he considers the abduction experience as an example of "forbidden knowledge of hidden events"—events that "conflict so sharply with accepted views about `reality' that the event can scarcely be brought up in polite society, much less made an object for publicly funded research." Zimmerman analyzes this attitude in terms of scientists' lack of interest in the phenomenon, their failure to recognize the phenomenon as something new, their fear that overt interest in the phenomenon would be an obstacle to career advancement, or their avoidance of phenomena that might require a drastic revision of what is accepted as "truth" and "reality." Although answering neither these questions nor the more fundamental one about the phenomenon's true nature, Zimmerman concludes that the abduction experience is "a possible challenge to perceived received views about the nature of `experience' and 'consciousness' as well as about humanity's place in the cosmos," and he "encourage[s] open minded debate about possible explanations for this unusual phenomenon."
Political Science. John C. Hickman, a professor in the Department of Political Science at Berry College, conducted an analysis of news coverage of UFOs. Looking at coverage in the New York Times during the period 1947-95, Hickman and his colleagues examined the hypothesis that UFO news coverage is biased. Using a content analysis of news events reported in the New York Times, the authors found that news reports that simply describe a sighting express minimal negative or skeptical quality. However, pejorative and critical comments increase as the article becomes larger and more narrative, a trend that has become more pronounced across the decades of UFO coverage. In general, the news coverage examined by these researchers suggested a "general pattern of profound skepticism on the part of the press."
In addition to finding support for the hypothesis of bias, Hickman and colleagues comment on the implications of this situation: "If news coverage decisions made by elite newspapers like the New York Times matter, it is because they affect elite opinion, general public opinion, and the news coverage decisions of [other] broadcast media." It might also be added that such biased coverage influences the opinion of academics as well, including their decisions to pursue or avoid their own scholarly study of the reported phenomena.
Jodi Dean (Department of Political Science, Hobart and William Smith Colleges) has studied the alien motif and its influence on and by social, technological, and political structures in our culture. For Dean, ufology is a political issue "because it is stigmatized. To claim to have seen a UFO, to have been abducted by aliens, or even to believe those who say they have is a political act. It may not be a very big or revolutionary political act but it contests the status quo." From this perspective, Dean argues that "the aliens infiltrating American popular cultures provide icons through which to access the new conditions of democratic politics at the millennium." Her analysis is an important contribution to political theory and to ufology, helping explain how the concepts of UFOs and aliens relate to contemporary democratic politics.
Much of the work in ufology (in particular the investigation of sighting reports) is conducted by lay investigators whose credentials and affiliations remain well outside the halls of academe. Although some of this activity is amateurish and embarrassing, a good deal of it remains valid and important, perhaps even critical to the work of those better connected to the academic community. Similarly, there have been many contributions to ufology from credentialed researchers affiliated with industrial, governmental, military, or medical establishments. This chapter has not addressed these contributions, not because they lack value but because if ufology is to gain a foothold in academia, it must be embraced by academics themselves.
This will be difficult to accomplish given the obstacles in its path. Nevertheless, there are reasons for optimism. Ufology's most controversial hypothesis (that UFOs are spacecraft) is based on a premise (the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence) that has become increasingly more accepted in both academic and lay communities. In addition, theoretical solutions to the technological problems associated with interstellar travel continue to be advanced. Similarly, the obstacles to interdisciplinary fields are diminishing, both in terms of the ever-increasing interdisciplinary nature of knowledge itself and in regard to "political" pressures arising out of a rethinking of traditional approaches to higher education.
But perhaps the most meaningful reason for optimism is the persistent activity of the Invisible College. Its contributions have created an interdisciplinary field of scholarship in the absence of formal recognition. In time, as these scholars continue to develop its database, test its theories, and perfect its methodologies, ufology may indeed become accepted as a recognized field of knowledge, a field respected by academics for addressing issues acknowledged to be interesting, important, and mysterious.
Introduction, David M. Jacobs
1. Ufology and Academia: The UFO Phenomenon as a Scholarly Discipline, Stuart Appelle
2. Limited Access; Six Natural Scientists and the UFO Phenomenon, Ron Westrum
3. Science, Law, and War: Alternative Frameworks for the UFO Evidence, Don C. Donderi
4. UFOs, the Military, and the Early Cold War Era, Michael D. Swords
5. The Extraterrestrial Hypothesis in the Early UFO Age, Jerome Clark
6. UFOs: Lost in the Myths, Thomas E. Bullard
7. The UFO Abduction Controversy in the United States, David M. Jacobs
8. Hypnosis and the Investigation of UFO Abduction Accounts, Budd Hopkins
9. How the Alien Abduction Phenomenon Challenges the Boundaries of Our Reality, John E. Mack
10. The UFO Experience: A Normal Correlate of Human Brain Function, Michael A. Persinger
11. Research Directions, David M. Jacobs