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UFO-Forschung - A new scientific study of Ufos

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Recent discussion about how the Condon study was flawed has me wondering exactly what mistakes were made and what a modern version of such a study might look like. Could it accomplish anything? What would be required to satisfy the UFO pro- ponents and skeptics alike?

A caustic environment

In his conclusions to the Colorado Project, Dr. Condon had written:

I had some awareness of the passionate controversy that swirled around the subject, contributing added difficulty to the task of making a dispassionate study. This hazard proved to be much greater than was appreciated at the outset. Had I known the extent of the emo- tional commitment of the UFO believers and the extremes of conduct to which their faith can lead them, I certainly would never have undertaken the study. 1

This kind of environment is more prevalent today. Social media is full of UFO proponents, who are highly critical of any scientist, who voices an opinion contrary to the accepted conclusion that “UFOs are real”. Scientists have been portrayed as dishonest or un- informed by various UFO supporters. Despite this kind of criticism, UFOlogists still want the scientific community to respect their work and recognize that UFOs are something that needs to be examined.

The failures of the Colorado project

The Colorado project suffered from many flaws but not the kind of flaws often mentioned by UFOlogists. In my opinion, Dr. Con- don was starting “behind the eight ball” to begin with. Unless evidence had surfaced that indicated there was something truly remarkable associated with these UFO reports, he was going to be stuck evaluating cases that may or may not have explanations. Solving each and every one to everybody’s satisfaction was going to be a tall task.

The US Air Force’s, Project Blue Book, had been the subject of a great deal of criticism. Some of it was justified. However, a great deal of it was generated by UFO organizations that chose to exaggerate claims about cases and ignore evidence that indicated those cases may not be as solid as they wanted everyone to believe. These same criticisms by UFO organizations would be leveled at the Condon report once it was released.

Some of those criticisms were:

  1. The “classic” UFO cases from previous years were never examined. These cases were considered, by UFO organizations, as indis- putable evidence that they represented reports of actual craft that were something “alien” to the earth.

  2. The study did not “solve” a good portion of the cases examined. This indicated UFOs are something that needed to be studied.

  3. Witness testimony was often ignored when cases were “explained”.

  4. They did not level criticism at Blue Book for poor investigations and misleading the public.

The study tried to address these criticisms in their report.

  1. It was determined that old cases would not prove beneficial to the team’s investigations. The passage of time and reliability of memory would interfere with uncovering new information that might solve these cases. In general, testimony of witnesses recorded shortly after their experiences can be considered more reliable than the stories told years, or decades, later.

  2. The fact that a good deal of these cases were not solved does not mean there was no solution. A lack of a good explanation does not mean there weren’t possible explanations that could not be confirmed. As the National Academy of Sciences stated:

    The Report recognizes that there remain UFO sightings that are not easily explained. The Report does not suggest, however, so many reasonable and possible directions in which an explanation may eventually be found, that there seems to be no reason to attribute them to an extraterrestrial source without evidence that is much more convincing.2

  3. The problems with witness testimony has always been the problem with UFO sightings. When William Hartmann wrote about the Zond IV sightings, he demonstrated that there was a percentage of UFO reports that often can be unreliable and exaggerated.

3 This does not mean that all UFO sightings are exaggerations or unreliable but one has to consider the possibility that 

the testimony might be flawed to the point that the solution is not readily apparent. The scientists recognized this problem. UFOlogists often ignore it.

4. The lack of criticism was not quite accurate. The O’Brien committee had noted that the USAF had lacked resources and some- times identified cases without enough data. 4 However, they, and Condon, did not spend a lot of effort trying to be overly critical of how the USAF was trying to explain every case. The USAF did make mistakes in their investigations but NICAP also made mistakes in their promotion of weak cases. If UFO proponents wanted Blue Book’s performance evaluated, one would expect them to have NICAP’s efforts also evaluated. In my opinion, both sides would not have looked very good. Such an effort would have done nothing to further the study of UFOs and would have been a waste of time and money.

Conspiracy

Some UFOlogists felt the whole event was a grand conspiracy, where the scientists were told by the USAF to debunk all UFO sight- ings and prove that UFOs were nonsense. The testimonies of Condon and other scientists involved indicate that this is not true. All seemed to think they were given a free hand to pursue their studies. The study itself is proof that this was not a whitewash. After all, if their objective was to explain away all UFO reports, why would they list so many of their cases as “unexplained”?

The source of the conspiracy appears to come from two documents. The first is the Low Memorandum, which was found by Dr. Craig and the existence known by the staff before being leaked to the media. The document was not classified or swept under the rug. Low did not even bother to hide the memo from the rest of the staff. Even more important is that Dr. Condon was unaware of the document’s existence.5 The memo did not even reflect his approach in conducting the project. While UFOlogists like to state that this meant the conclusion of the study was per-determined, the memo does not prove this.

The other document that supposedly proves the conclusions of the study was a “fait accompli”, is a letter Colonel Hippler had writ- ten to Condon. Kevin Randle has interpreted this document to indicate that the Condon study was nothing more than propaganda presented by the USAF and that it was not science at all. One has to examine what Colonel Hippler had written and look at this from his point of view. He was trying to convey to Dr. Condon that the USAF would like a conclusion from the study that could determine what path the USAF could take with project Blue Book. He was concerned that the study would come up with an ambiguous con- clusion regarding UFOs, which would result in the USAF spending more resources on a subject that, they felt, had no endpoint in sight. He did not state, “You must debunk UFOs”. He only wanted a conclusion that could allow the USAF to either discontinue the study of UFOs or, if there was something there to be concerned about, require Blue Book to continue:

When you have looked into some sightings and examined some Blue Book records and become acquainted with the true state of affairs, you must consider the cost of the Air Force program on UFOs, and determine if the taxpayer should support this for the next decade. It will be at least that long before another independent study can be mounted to see if the Air Force can get out from under this program. If the contract is up before you have laid the proper groundwork for a proper recommendation, an extension of the contract would be less costly than another decade of operating Project Blue Book.6

Dr. Craig described this same attitude in his book on the Condon study:

Later, after Dr. J. Thomas Ratchford, who had represented the AFOSR in negotiating the project contract, said, “I think the only thing that we are really asking you to do is to take a look at the problem, first of all, and on the basis of what you determine recommend what the Air Force should do in the future.” Col. Hippler then remarked, “I don’t think we want any recommendations from you unless you feel strongly about it.”7

The USAF was simply stating that if Condon was going to recommend that “UFOs still needed to be studied by the USAF”, he would need to provide good reasons why because the USAF could not see any reason to do so at this point.

Effects of the Condon study

Many UFO proponents feel that Condon’s conclusions had made it impossible for scientists to study UFOs. This is not true. There have been plenty of scientists, who have pursued the study of UFOs. Unfortunately, they have failed to produce meaningful results. Is this because there fellow scientists have belittled their research or is because, as Condon had noted, it is very difficult to study the subject scientifically?

In 1997, Peter Sturrock put together a panel of scientists and UFOlogists to examine the best UFO evidence to date. Much was made of this because, according to the press release, the panel had “overturned” Condon’s conclusions. This was something of an exaggeration.

The panel also reviewed some of the conclusions advanced in 1968 by Dr. Edward U. Condon, director of the Colorado Project. He asserted 

that “nothing has come from the study of UFOs in the past 21 years that has added to scientific knowledge,” and that “further extensive study of UFOs probably cannot be justified in the expectation that science will be advanced thereby.” While agreeing with the first con- clusion and its extension to the present, the panel considers that there always exists the possibility that investigation of an unexplained phenomenon may lead to an advance in scientific knowledge.8

Anybody who actually read Condon’s recommendations would realize that he never stated that scientist should never study UFOs. After making the statement about scientifically studying UFOs could not be justified, Condon added that he felt that scientists, who wanted to study UFOs should do so.

Our conclusion that study of UFO reports is not likely to advance science will not be uncritically accepted by them. Nor should it be, nor do we wish it to be. For scientists, it is our hope that the detailed analytical presentation of what we were able to do, and of what we were unable to do, will assist them in deciding whether or not they agree with our conclusions. Our hope is that the details of this report will help other scientists in seeing what the problems are and the difficulties of coping with them.

If they agree with our conclusions, they will turn their valuable attention and talents elsewhere. If they disagree it will be because our report has helped them reach a clear picture of wherein existing studies are faulty or incomplete and thereby will have stimulated ideas for more accurate studies. If they do get such ideas and can formulate them clearly, we have no doubt that support will be forthcoming to carry on with such clearly-defined, specific studies. We think that such ideas for work should be supported.9

It seems that the Sturrock panel essentially mirrored what Condon had stated. This is interesting because this panel of scientists were exposed to a very one-sided presentation of UFO cases by UFO scientists. One might classify this as “UFOlogy’s best and brightest” presenting the “best evidence available”. Despite the biased presentation, they really did not make a dent in the opinion of these scientists.

Panel co-chair, Dr. Von R. Eshleman, would elaborate about his participation in a subsequent interview:

I got a cold call from someone I knew, and it sounded like an interesting subject, and I’m emeritus, so I don’t have to worry about my colleagues saying I shouldn’t be doing these things. The concept of not even listening to the reports, I think is a mistake, and there are examples in the scientific literature where scientists have been wrong for very long periods of time...UFOs remain unidentified because there isn’t enough evidence to go beyond the unidentified category, ... “unfortunately many people, when you say UFO, think that means a visitation of aliens or a government cover-up or something like that...10

He also commented about their conclusions:

I thought we wrote a pretty mild report...We only changed the Condon Report in a minor way. We agree that nothing so far has really overturned science, but let’s keep an open mind. I was surprised the media picked it up the way it did, but for a scientific group to say anything that doesn’t completely debunk the UFOs, I suppose, was a surprise.11

Several other members of the panel discussed their participation and mirrored D.r Eshelman’s comments. In some cases, they were critical of how the UFOlogists did not objectively consider explanations other than exotic ones. This was mentioned in the conclu- sions by the panel:

It appears that most current UFO investigations are carried out at a level of rigor that is not consistent with prevailing standards of scien- tific research...It may therefore be valuable to carefully evaluate UFO reports to extract information about unusual phenomena currently unknown to science. However, to be credible to the scientific community, such evaluations must take place with a spirit of objectivity and a willingness to evaluate rival hypotheses.12

This is the only time, since Condon, that scientists, outside of the UFO field, had formally examined the UFO evidence and this was their response. Can UFOlogists really expect scientists to come to a different conclusion in any study?

A new scientific study

If Condon is as flawed as UFOlogists want everyone to believe, getting a different result should not be difficult. This means that a new study should be conducted. While the first was funded by the US government, this study would have to be funded by outside sources. This might present a conflict of interest unless the terms of the contract was clear that those conducting the study were independent of UFOlogy/formal skeptics and that their conclusions would not be influenced by the financier.

The source of the finances should not be too difficult. MUFON spent money on a public relations firm and probably could team with other UFO organizations to fund such a study. After all, it is the UFOlogists who state that the evidence exists and a new study will prove it. They want it, they should pay for it.

Wanted: Scientists

It is a common theme in UFOlogy that scientists do not want to study UFOs because they consider it nonsense or that there exists a conspiracy set in place by the findings of the Condon study that scientists are not allowed to study the subject. Most scientists, who have spoken on the subject, seem to reflect the attitude that there is little to the subject that interests them. For them to quit their current line of work, they would have to be enticed financially and given guarantees that they would not be beset by UFOlo- gists trying to influence their conclusions.

Since there is no such thing as the science of UFOlogy, one would expect that multiple disciplines (astronomy, geology, atmospheric sciences, chemistry, optics, etc.) would be needed. In addition to sightings/physical evidence, abduction claims would also have to be investigated, which means that personnel from the medical profession will be required.

A possible project

The study would have to include all the areas championed by UFOlogists. This would include:

  1. An Examination of old cases selected by UFOlogists as the most significant. Perhaps a top twenty, which would include photo- graphic and video evidence.

  2. A time period would be set aside for a field team to be dispatched to any case in the United States that presents evidence that is significant and contains multiple independent witnesses from different locations. Single witness cases would be also included if they involve additional corroborating evidence such as photographs or video evidence. The team would not be asked to go investigate single witness that cannot be verified.

  3. Cases involving data obtained solely through instrumentation.

  4. Set up UFO stations to collect UFO data in selected “hot spot” areas

  5. Medical examination of persons claiming to be abducted.

I can address some of the problems with these goals:

  1. Old cases tend to be hard to analyze as noted here in SUNlite. However, there has been indications that some cases that were declared “unsolvable” in the past now have reasonable explanations for them. Cases like Rendlesham, the 1997 Yukon case, Sky- lab III, McMinnville, RB-47, Malmstrom, Kelly Johnson, Teheran, and Shag Harbor were all presented as “Best evidence’ in Paul Kimball’s film. The list was a consensus list of best cases. Some of these cases had explanations offered for them in the past and others had explanations offered for them since the film’s release. It is hard to believe that scientists would consider any of these cases of evidence of anything significant unless there was new evidence unearthed in any follow-up. Since UFOlogists have not revealed anything new and skeptics have, it seems that these cases would be rejected as not being significant. One might say the same for just about any old UFO case. Perhaps if UFOlogists picked one good case, they can agree upon, scientists could examine that one case closely. As Dr. William Hartmann stated, in the quote I put on the cover of this issue, if it stands up to scrutiny, they might have a point.13 However, if it is solved or potential solution is presented, would they accept the conclusion? Would UFOlogists be afraid of having one of their “best cases” closely examined and evaluated by scientists?

  2. The investigation of cases seems to offer something for scientists to evaluate. I suspect the conclusions would be similar to that of the Condon study. They may stumble across cases that do not have a definitive solution but this does not mean that there is no solution. The rejection of any single witness/non-independent group sighting without verification is important here. Some of the “unknown” cases in Condon were of the single witness type and these are often difficult to evaluate.

  3. The cases involving instrumentation would be the best cases for scientists to study. The Puerto Rico video would be an ideal case for evaluation since the data is available. Skeptics would be willing to accept any conclusion offered by scientists outside of the UFO community but I doubt that groups like MUFON and the SCU would be so willing to accept their conclusions if it differed from theirs.

  4. The UFO station idea has been tossed about for a few years. That being said, it has been mostly talk and there seems to be no firm plan in place or progress in this area. What is ignored is that there are actual stations scattered across the world already doing something very similar. The fireball network employed by NASA14 and the “Sky sentinel” network15 have all sky cameras monitoring the skies every night for bright meteors. Surely one would record these huge “spaceships” witnesses have claimed to be seeing for the past twenty to thirty years. The more stations, the greater the odds that a craft “unknown to science” would be recorded. To date, none of these cameras have recorded anything truly “unknown” but they have recorded hundreds of

  5. bright meteor events. Some of these camera systems have been run by amateur astronomers who invested their own money to produce data to collect possible meteorites. Why haven’t UFOlogists invested their own funds to set up their own networks?

    5. One has to wonder if any abductee would be interested in examinations by medical doctors and psychiatrists outside of the UFO field. I also wonder if any doctor would be interested in opening themselves up to a malpractice lawsuit filed by an abduct- ee if they consider them to be suffering from sort of mental illness.

    Is a new study worth it?

    Based on the arguments above, I think a new scientific study, if UFOlogists could get scientists interested, would be a wasted ef- fort. There would be some explanations, some mysteries, but no definitive answers. The results would simply mirror what Con- don had discovered and the conclusions would be pretty much the same. UFOlogists would not be willing to accept such a result.

    Establishing a government agency to study UFOs, as Leslie Kean has proposed, would be a complete misuse of taxpayer funds. All it would result in is a database of sightings, which is already being done by NUFORC and MUFON. It probably would also squander resources from other government agencies trying to investigate “lights in the sky” reports. It would be tough selling that idea to somebody in congress when the money can be spent elsewhere on “more important” things.

    In my opinion, the only possible path for UFOlogists to take is that outlined by Dr. Hartmann in his article about UFO photos. That is to select one case and then present it in a manner that would allow scientists to review the data. That means they would have to attempt to publish in a professional journal of some kind instead of publishing in the MUFON journal or on the Internet.

    Somebody once stated that if you keep doing things the same way, you are going to get the same results. Until UFOlogy decides to take new steps to improve their approach on the subject, they will always be regarded as a pseudo-scientific/fringe field that has no hope of proving anything.

    Notes and references

    1. Condon, E. U., et al., eds. Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects. New York: Bantam 1968. P. 548

    2. Panel of the National Academy of Sciences. Review of the University of Colorado report on Unidentified Flying Objects. National Academy of Sciences. 1969. Attachment 2 P. 9

    3. Condon, E. U., et al., eds. Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects. New York: Bantam 1968. P. 575-6

    4. ibid. P. 814

    5. Craig, Roy. UFOs: An Insider’s View of the Offical Quest for Evidence. Denton: University of North Texas Press, 1995. P. 200.

    6. Randle, Kevin. “The Hippler letter”. A Different Perspective. March 21, 2007. Available WWW: http://kevinrandle.blogspot. com/2007/03/hippler-letter.html

    7. Craig, Roy. UFOs: An Insider’s View of the Offical Quest for Evidence. Denton: University of North Texas Press, 1995. P. 235

    8. Sturrock, Peter. The UFO Enigma. New York: Warner Books 1999. P. 122

    9. Condon, E. U., et al., eds. Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects. New York: Bantam 1968. P. 2.

    10. Koerner, Daveid and Simon LeVay. Here be dragons: the scientific quest for extraterrestrial life. Oxford University press. New York. 2000. P. 190

    11. ibid. P.191

    12. Sturrock, Peter. The UFO Enigma. New York: Warner Books 1999. P. 121

    13. Sagan, Carl, and Thornton Page, eds. UFO’s: A Scientific Debate. New York: Barnes & Nobles, 1972. P. 21

    14. NASA’ s all sky fireball network. Available WWW: http://fireballs.ndc.nasa.gov/

    15. SkySentinel, LLC. Sky Sentinel. Available WWW: http://goskysentinel.com/

    Quelle: SUNlite 3/2017

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